Boxing Day is the day after Christmas. It may feel like Christmas is over, but historically or traditionally, it was the second day of twelve of Christmastide.
The history of this day, and what it has become, is unclear.
The origins are traced to the United Kingdom.
There are a few probable and related stories.
In the entrance (narthex) of churches there were boxes to collect coins for the poor and they were opened on the day after Christmas. This tradition may have been drawn from this day also being St. Stephen’s Day. We may know the words to Good King Wenceslas last looked out on the Feast of Stephen. This is a carol that tells a story of a king braving harsh winter weather to give alms to the poor .
The day after Christmas was a day off for servants of the wealthy in the United Kingdom. The servants were given a box to take home, with gifts, bonuses, and leftover food.
As times changed and by the 1830s, the day after Christmas was when those who were not directly paid, such as postman and errand boys, expected a Christmas box .
A more obscure reference is the nautical tradition. When setting sail, ships would carry a sealed box containing money for good luck. At the end of the successful journey, the box was given to a priest to give to the poor at Christmas.
Boxing Day is not the official day to bet rid of empty boxes or be taking a trip to the recycling bin with the mountains of packaging, or the box to keep the empties.
In recent times, Boxing Day has been more of a day to accumulate more things, with trips to the Big Box stores. The reported uncivil behavior seems reminiscent of the orignial stoning of St. Stephen?
Boxing Day does not refer to boxing matches. Though this day has become associated with all types of significant sporting events.
Boxing Day Dips or Polar Bear Dips have become part of this day. Continuing the tradition of helping the poor, people run into cold water and raise money for charity.
In some parts of Ireland, this day is known as Wren’s Day. There are several versions of this celebration.
1) Children go from door to door, singing or dancing, with a wren in a cage or a model wren on a stick. They are collecting money school projects or charity.
2) Boys paraded around the village with a dead wren that they had stoned to death, just as St. Stephen was stoned to death. According to an Irish legend, St. Stephen was betrayed by a wren while hiding from his enemies. The money collected was used to host a party for the village.
3) Another legend tells of Irish soldiers approaching a Viking camp to drive out the intruders. However, a wren started eating crumbs from a drum which created sounds to alert the Vikings. Hence, wrens betrayed them and should be stoned to death, just as St Stephen was.
The custom of killing wrens on December 26 died out around 1900.
The New Yorker humorously tried to explain Boxing day to visitors to the US from the U.K., Australia and Canada and suggested they best view it as a day to get boxed pizza or a box of wine. It is not an American holiday. If Boxing Day does not fall on a weekend all banks and government offices are open ~ but expect the workers are grumpy, the article warns.
In Canada Boxing Day is a provincial statutory holiday in Ontario only. It is a statutory holiday for federally regulated workers and banks across the country.
And let's remember all the essential workers not having the day off.
The current lockdown is now in effect and we are not going out shopping this year. Groups of people are probably not jumping in a cold lake.
Let’s just continue to stay home. We can take time to think outside the box to find ways, as individuals and communities, that we might best help the vulnerable.