Seasons greetings! As you are reading this I feel safe in assuming that you have survived the excesses of Christmas itself, and I hope that you are hungry again and ready to go off and do it all again today, for today is Boxing Day.
What an odd name for a day that is. There are a number of traditions associated with Boxing Day, mostly involving continued over indulgence, fighting through sales or chasing a Fox around the countryside. But how did the day come by its name?
Is there a history of pugilism on the day after Christmas? Or is it simply referring to the need to clear the house of all the boxes that contained our festive booty the previous day? No, a quick search of the internet reveals a number of possible reasons for the name, all of them more altruistic than any of the other traditions I have mentioned.
The first thing to know is that Boxing Day is also known as the Feast of Stephen, of Good King Wenceslas fame. This is probably worthy of more research and a blog of its own, but for now I will gloss over it and stick to the point.
There are three possible origins of the name that I have found: The first relates to the generosity of masters to their servants. In Downton Abbey days, the servants had to work on Christmas Day, waiting hand and foot on their masters, so they were generously allowed the following day off to see their families. They were often given a Christmas Box to take away with them, containing gifts and/ or food.
This was more extreme in previous days: in the pre-Christian Roman celebration of Saturnalia, masters swapped places with their slave for the day. In more recent times, the idea of a Christmas box continued with giving a gift to tradesmen on the first working day after Christmas.
A second explanation for the name stems from the Alms Box. This was a box in church on Christmas Day where the congregation donated money – a good day to tug on the heartstrings or play to people’s innate sense of benevolence and/ or guilt. This box was opened and the money distributed to the poor the following day.
The final explanation I have found is a nautical version of the Alms Box. In the days when great ships plied the waters on voyages of exploration, a priest would install a Christmas Box on the ship. Crewmen would put money in the box for good luck. At the end of the voyage, the box would be given to the church in exchange for the saying of mass for the successful voyage. This box would be kept by the church until Christmas when it was shared with the poor.
So there we have it, more altruistic versions of Boxing Day, but however you are spending it have a good day and enjoy the rest of the festive period.