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Boxing Day has become more or less another day on the calendar with an uncertain origin for most of us, or maybe just a day to enjoy post-Christmas sale prices. And it's not really an American thing anyway, so I've often been asked what Boxing Day is about. Is it when you box up your unwanted gifts so you can exchange them? Is it when you put all the Christmas decorations back in the boxes for storage? Is there a special boxing tournament to watch that day?
Nope, none of the above, although lots of people are indeed returning and exchanging gifts, or even packing up their Christmas decorations.
Don't pack up yet - it's only the second day of Christmas! Boxing Day falls on December 26th, which is also St Stephen's Day; and in some European countries, it's even known as Second Christmas Day. In the United Kingdom, Canada, and most Commonwealth countries, it is a bank or federal statutory holiday. Government offices and some businesses may be closed, but in modern times the malls are certainly open, because Boxing Day is the biggest shopping day of the year, much like Black Friday is in the United States.
The custom that gave rise to Boxing Day dates to 17th century England, when tradespeople were able to collect Christmas-boxes on the first weekday after Christmas. These Christmas-boxes of money or gifts were given as a gratuity for services rendered over the course of the year. This custom comes from an earlier tradition - since servants were required to wait on their masters on Christmas Day, they were allowed the next day to visit their families. The employers would give each servant a box to take home which contained gifts, money, and sometimes food. The custom of giving money and other gifts to those were needy or were in service goes back to the Middle Ages, when there were Alms Boxes in churches to collect donations for the poor. The priests would open the boxes to distribute these gifts on the Feast of Saint Stephen.
Saint Stephen, by the way, was the first Christian martyr, and his feast day is celebrated on December 26th in the western church, and on December 27th in the eastern church. His name may be familiar thanks to the song telling us that "Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen". Wenceslas was a 10th century Bohemian king considered a martyr and a saint, and known for his piety and righteousness. The song tells the story of Wenceslas going out during harsh winter weather to bring alms to a poor peasant, and how he encourages his page to follow in his footsteps.
How do we celebrate Boxing Day? Well, for most Canadians, it's a day for either relaxing with family or taking advantage of the sales - or a combination of the two! Many of us like to watch hockey on TV, since the IIFH World U20 Champsionship and the Spengler Cup tournaments usually start on the 26th, and most years the National Hockey League is on break.
How are you celebrating? Is your tree packed away already, or do you celebrate all twelve days of Christmas? Leave a comment and let me know!
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