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Saturday, December 10, 2005

Boxing Day

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Boxing Day is a holiday celebrated in England and Commonwealth countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It officially falls on December 26th, the day after Christmas, or the first weekday following Christmas if Christmas falls on a weekend. The nice part about this holiday is that people are able to continue the Christmas holiday festivities for another day rather than having to return to work the day after Christmas.

As celebrated in England and the English speaking Commonwealth, Boxing Day is a day to visit friends and family, attend sporting events (popular in England and Australia) and go shopping.

Boxing Day originated in the Middle Ages and is generally believed to have begun with the practice of lords of the manor distributing gifts to the servants and other workers on their lands. As the merchant class developed they also joined the practice of giving gifts on December 26th to household servants and tradesmen with whom they dealt. December 26th is also the feast of St. Stephen the martyr, the first disciple of Christ to be martyred following the crucifixion of Christ. On St. Stephen's Day the churches would distribute the money and goods, that had been deposited in their alms boxes by their parishioners, to the poor.

It is not known how the day came to be known as "Boxing Day". We do know that the name has nothing to do with the gathering up and disposing of the boxes which had contained the Christmas presents. It also has nothing to do with the sport of boxing. Some have speculated that the name comes from the fact that money in the churches' alms boxes was distributed on this day or referred to the boxing of gifts given by the nobles and merchant class to servants and tradesmen.

It should be noted that Christmas is the day on which people in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand exchange gifts with family and friends. On Boxing Day gifts are not exchanged between people. Rather, gifts are given by upper income people to those who provide services for them and to those in need.

Even though Boxing Day has its roots in the Middle Ages, it did not become an official holiday until the nineteenth century during the reign of Queen Victoria. It was during this period that English power was at its height and the British Empire stretched from one end of the world to the other (which gave rise to the saying that "the sun never sets on the British Empire"). It was during this period that England began to look back upon and celebrate (as well as romanticize) its mediaeval roots. Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the leading English speaking states in the British Empire at that time, followed England in formalizing this holiday while their American cousins, who had severed their ties with the British monarchy and empire a century before did not. Of course the retail sector in America has done its part to encourage shopping on this day as has become the custom also in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The difference being that, in America, the day after Christmas has become an unofficial shopping holiday as shoppers rush out to take advantage of after Christmas sales, while their counterparts in Britain and the English part of the Commonwealth have made shopping one of the major ways they celebrate the holiday today.

Links for More Information:

Elaine's page

Canadian Heritage

How the Irish Celebrate Wren (Boxing)Day

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