Originally posted on December 26, 2017, as part of The Coffee Shop series
Boxing Day is December 26, the day after Christmas, and is celebrated in Great Britain and in most areas settled by the English (the U.S. is the major exception), including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The origin of the name continues to be argued by scholars. It may be related to “Christmas boxes” given to servants and tradespeople, but could also be named for the distribution of coins to the poor from the church alms boxes.
The Oxford English Dictionary gives the earliest attestations from England in the 1830s, defining it as “the first week-day after Christmas-day, observed as a holiday on which post-men, errand-boys, and servants of various kinds expect to receive a Christmas-box.”
The term “Christmas-box” dates back to the 17th century, and among other things meant: a present or gratuity given at Christmas; in Great Britain, it was a custom for tradespeople to collect “Christmas boxes” of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year. This is mentioned in Samuel Pepys’ diary entry for 19 December 1663, but it is linked to an even older English tradition: since they would have to wait on their masters on Christmas Day, the servants of the wealthy were allowed the next day to visit their families. The employers would give each servant a box to take home containing gifts, bonuses and sometimes leftover food.
Church Alms Boxes, the boxes placed in churches where parishioners deposited coins for the poor were opened and the contents distributed on the Feast Day of St. Stephen. In the liturgical calendar of Western Christianity, Boxing Day is the second day of Christmastide, and St. Stephen’s Day, also called the Feast of St. Stephen.
Stephen was one of the seven original deacons of the Christian Church who were ordained by the Apostles to care for widows and the poor. For the success of his preaching and his devotion to Christ, St. Stephen was stoned to death by a mob. As he died, he begged God not to punish his killers. Ironically, since he was stoned to death, he became the patron saint of stone masons.
Whatever its origins, Boxing Day is now one of the British bank holidays recognized since 1871, and observed by banks, government offices, and the post office.
- Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boxing_Day
- Information Please – http://www.infoplease.com/spot/boxingday1.html