Thursday, December 26, 2013


By Caroline Clemmons

Happy 2nd day of Christmas (and 3rd, since this post will be up both days). I hope your true love has given you something more practical than the symbolic turtle doves and French hens.

Today is also another holiday, Boxing Day. Although Boxing Day is not celebrated as such in the United States, the occasion is one of our heritage.  So, even though we don’t recognize the day as a holiday in the U.S., let’s look at the history and practice today.

Boxing Day’s history is sketchy. As a child, the vague references in books to the holiday conjured up questions of why everyone in a country would go boxing the day after Christmas. ☺ Later I learned the day has nothing to do with pugilism.

According to Wikipedia, the day is a carryover from early Roman times when slave owners and servants traded places for one day or when slaves were given gifts at Saturnalia. Perhaps this is what evolved into the British custom giving gifts to servants and those of lesser status on the day after Christmas. According to David Johnson, historians say the holiday developed because servants were required to work on Christmas Day, but took the following day off. As servants prepared to leave to visit their families, their employers would present them with gift boxes.

So why don’t we celebrate the day in the United States? In my opinion, one reason is that the classes were muddled/huddled and early settlers lacked the formal distinctions of the “old country.” Especially as people moved West, they were considered equals. Yes, money still talked, but Western society formed a new order in which people were judged more on character and productivity than ancestry. Fewer people had servants. At least that’s my take on the day.

According to Elaine Lemm, Boxing Day was a day off for servants and when they received a “Christmas Box” from the master. The servants would also go home to give “Christmas Boxes” to their families.

A box to collect money for the poor was placed in Churches on Christmas day then opened the next day. Great sailing ships when setting sail would have a sealed box containing money on board for good luck. If the voyage were a success the box was given to a priest, opened at Christmas and the contents given to the poor.  

Boxing Day is a time to spend with family or friends, usually those not seen on Christmas Day itself. With guests often popping in for a snack and quick drink, the food and drink on Boxing Day is more relaxed than Christmas Day. Lunch will usually be a buffet or leftovers from Christmas lunch. Baked Ham is a popular Boxing Day meat. Mince Pies with Brandy Butter or a slice of Christmas Cake are almost obligatory.

Boxing Day hunts are now without a fox.
In recent times the day has become synonymous with sport. Horse racing is particularly popular with meets all over the country. Many top football teams also play on Boxing Day. Until 2004, Boxing Day hunts were a traditional part of Boxing Day but the ban on fox hunting has put an end to the hunt in its traditional sense. Hunters will still gather dressed resplendently in red hunting coats to the sound of the hunting horn but it is now forbidden in law to chase the fox with dogs, so the dogs now follow artificially laid trails. Boxing Day is also a time when the British take part in activities like fun runs and charity events.

Sales begin December 26th
The New Boxing Day Sport is shopping similar to Black Friday sales in the U.S. Sales used to start in January post-New Year, but the desire to grab a bargain and for shops to off-load stock means many now start on Boxing Day.

Boxing Day is also the Feast of Saint Stephen. For those who keep saints’ days, this is a day to give to the poor and to the church. Certainly that’s a good idea regardless of your religious persuasion!

St. Wenceslaus
Here are the lyrics to the song that first alerted me to the Feast of St. Stephen, "Good King Winceslaus."

Good King Wenceslaus looked out on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night, though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gathering winter fuel.

“Hither, page, and stand by me, if you know it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me food and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither,
You and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together,
Through the cold wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger,
Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, my good page, tread now in them boldly,
You shall find the winter’s rage freeze your blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
You who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing. 

Happy Boxing Day. Happy St. Stephen’s Day. Happy 2nd and 3rd day of Christmas. I hope your true love gives you something more useful than calling birds and French hens. 

Peace, health, and happiness to each of you in the New Year!

Sources: by Elaine Lemm by David Johnson


  1. Very interesting Caroline. I've always heard the term Boxing Day but had no clue what it meant.

  2. I've always wondered about boxing day. I have heard a variety of stories on how it began and how it has evolved over the years. I like the original beginning best. Thanks for letting us know, Caroline. :)


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