If you’re looking for something that explains the origins of Boxing Day, well, you’re not going to find it here. The day-after-Christmas holiday is celebrated by most countries in the Commonwealth, but in a what-were-we-doing-again? bout of amnesia, none of them are really sure what they’re celebrating, when it started or why. The best clue to Boxing Day’s origins can be found in the song “Good King Wenceslas.” According to the Christmas carol, Wenceslas, who was Duke of Bohemia in the early 10th century, was surveying his land on St. Stephen’s Day — Dec. 26 — when he saw a poor man gathering wood in the middle of a snowstorm. Moved, the King gathered up surplus food and wine and carried them through the blizzard to the peasant’s door. The alms-giving tradition has always been closely associated with the Christmas season — hence the canned-food drives and Salvation Army Santas that pepper our neighborhoods during the winter — but King Wenceslas’ good deed came the day after Christmas, when the English poor received most of their charity. King Wenceslas didn’t start Boxing Day, but the Church of England might have. During Advent, Anglican parishes displayed a box into which churchgoers put their monetary donations. On the day after Christmas, the boxes were broken open and their contents distributed among the poor, thus giving rise to the term Boxing Day. Maybe. But wait: there’s another possible story about the holiday’s origin. The day after Christmas was also the traditional day on which the aristocracy distributed presents (boxes) to servants and employees — a sort of institutionalized Christmas-bonus party. The servants returned home, opened their boxes and had a second Christmas on what became known as Boxing Day.
I heard one of my Canadian friends compare Boxing Day to our Black Friday. So in many ways, this feast that started with religious overtones has become commercialized much like some of our religious feasts — interesting…it is a federal holiday, so for many in former British Crown countries, it is another day off. Any way, I hadn’t heard the story of Boxing Day before and found it interesting and wanted to share it with you. To my Canadian and British friends…Happy belated Boxing Day.