On Thursday, December 26, many countries, notably the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries that were formerly part of the British Empire, will celebrate a holiday known as Boxing Day. Many of those who are unfamiliar with this traditional holiday erroneously assume it is associated with pugilism. That is not the case.
BD is considered a secular holiday, however, some countries celebrate a religious holiday on December 26. For example, Germany, The Netherlands and Poland, celebrate the day as a “Second Christmas Day.” In the Catalonia region of Spain the day is celebrated as “St. Stephen’s Day.”
BD’s origins are murky. There are various theories. Based on my research it appears that the holiday can be traced at least to medieval England where it was customary for the aristocracy to allow their servants to spend the day after Christmas with their families. After all, the servants were obligated to serve their masters on Christmas Day rather than spend the holiday with their families. Each servant would receive a “box” containing food, clothing, and/or other gifts to bring home to his or her family.
Over time, this practice was extended to tradesmen and others who performed services for the aristocrats. Perhaps, this was a forerunner to the present-day custom in many parts of the US of giving Christmas gifts to various persons who perform services for us on a regular basis, such as mail carriers, doormen, manicurists, and hairstylists.
The earliest mention of the term “Christmas box” was in Samuel Pepys’ diary in 1663. (Pepys was a member of Parliament during the 17th century who was famous for keeping a diary.) Others believe the day’s roots go back to Roman times when it was customary to place a metal box, aka the Alms Box, outside the church during the “Feast of St. Stephen” to collect donations for the poor.
BD celebrations vary from country to country. For instance:
1. In the UK it is a bank holiday. If it falls on a Saturday or a Sunday, it is celebrated on the following Monday or Tuesday, respectively.
2. In Ireland it is celebrated on December 26, regardless of which day of the week it falls on, as St. Stephens Day.
3. In Australia it is a federal holiday. In the state of South Australia it is celebrated as “Proclamation Day,” which commemorates the establishment of South Australia as a British province in 1834. Supposedly, the proclamation was promulgated at “The Old Gum Tree” in what is presently the suburb of Glenelg North in SA. Originally, December 28 was designated as PD, but, at some point, it was changed to the first business day after Christmas (probably to accommodate those who wanted to create an extended holiday period).
4. In Canada and New Zealand BD is celebrated as a statutory holiday; that is, it is celebrated on December 26 regardless of the day of the week.
5. In Nigeria BD is celebrated on December 26 as a public holiday for workers and students. If it falls on Saturday or Sunday, it is observed on the following Monday.
6. In some countries, notably Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand BD is a huge shopping day, akin to “Black Friday” in the US. Retailers have extended hours and hold sales. Shoppers line up early just like on “Black Friday.” Much like in the US, retailers have expanded the Christmas shopping season in order to generate additional revenue. Some retailers in those countries have expanded the period of observation to “Boxing Week.”
7. In addition, all of the aforementioned countries hold a variety of sporting events to mark the day (soccer, rugby, cricket, horse racing, ice hockey, even boxing).
Like many holidays, the original significance of BD has been lost and it has become commercialized excessively. Such is the way of the modern world.
For most Americans, December 26 is merely a day to extend the Christmas holiday and, in some cases, to “recuperate” from it. This year, with Christmas being on a Wednesday, many people will create a long weekend/minivacation, adding either Monday-Tuesday or Thursday-Friday to the holiday, or, perhaps, the entire week. However you choose to spend the day I hope you enjoy it.