Celebrated every year on December 26th, Boxing Day was nothing to do with the sport of boxing, but rather the day when tradesmen were presented with Christmas boxes or gifts, in return for good and reliable service to their masters and employers throughout the year.
The earliest roots of Boxing Day are difficult to determine. It may have originated during the Middle Ages, when charitable institutions gave gifts to those in need. On the day after Christmas Day priests would open their church’s alms boxes, and distribute the contents to the poor.
There is also a school of thought that places Boxing Day’s origins with the Ancient Romans. Money paid to watch athletic games was collected in boxes. Amongst the ruins of Pompeii, boxes made out of earthenware with slits in the top full of coins have been found. The Romans brought this idea of collecting boxes with them to Britain; a practice which was soon adopted by the English clerics, who used similar boxes to collect money for the poor at Christmas time.
As well as being Boxing Day, December 26th is also St. Stephen’s Day. Stoned to death shortly after Christ’s crucifixion, Saint Stephen was the first Christian to be martyred for his faith. He was immortalized in the Christmas song Good King Wenceslas “Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen”.
In modern times Boxing Day is traditionally a family day which revolves around eating up the leftovers from their Christmas Dinner the day before, and playing with the presents that have been both given and received.
Unlike most Christmas time traditions which are celebrated across the Western World, Boxing Day is a holiday only celebrated in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the Commonwealth countries.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.