I’ve been getting into the holiday spirit and wanted to blog about something related to the season. I thought I could follow up my Thanksgiving Day post with something about the laws relating to Christmas Day, but then I thought that something with a little more international flavor might be interesting (I did find some fascinating information about the banning of the celebration of Christmas in the U.K. and in Boston in the mid-17th century though!). So I decided to write about a holiday tradition that isn’t celebrated here in the U.S. but that I often get asked about – Boxing Day.
Boxing Day is a statutory public holiday in many countries. Like Guy Fawkes Day, it’s mainly a Commonwealth thing – for example, Boxing Day is observed as a holiday in the U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Kenya, Jamaica, etc. But a number of countries in Europe also observe the day, including Sweden and Austria.
Boxing Day falls on December 26, although in many places you’ll get a day off work at the start of the week if the 26th falls on a weekend. The observance of the day is said to relate to the Feast of St. Stephen, and in Ireland and other countries December 26 is called St. Stephen’s Day (the song Good King Wenceslas refers to this feast). There are various traditions associated with the day, but in general it was historically a day for opening church alms boxes and for giving gifts to staff or service workers. The word “boxing” is said to refer to giving a Christmas box, although it could relate to the alms boxes too. It may have now come to refer to something less charitable as well – boxing up all those unwanted gifts to return them to the store! I did find an article that contains some other (rather cynical) perspectives on the day as well.
A number of other traditions have arisen over the years. Much like Thanksgiving (and the day after) traditions in the U.S., these tend to revolve around sport and shopping. Apparently the Boxing Day Sales make it one of the biggest shopping days of the year in the U.K. and other countries too. There are still Boxing Day fox hunts in England (although these are the subject of much controversy and protest), as well as a number of football (i.e., soccer) fixtures. In Australia, the Boxing Day Test (an international cricket match) and the Sydney to Hobart yacht race both start on December 26. In my family, Boxing Day was often when we went to the beach and ate sandwiches filled with leftover Christmas ham. We’d wait for the New Year’s sales for our bargain hunting.
Whatever your traditions, we hope you have a safe and happy holiday.