Wednesday, October 23, 2019
Victorian Boxing Day
Boxing Day is a very traditionally British, although it dates back to the Middle Ages, when boxes were placed in churches for contributions. These boxes were referred to as "Alms Boxes." The practice dates back to the 12 days of Christmas and the feasts of the Saints. In this case, the Feast day of St Stephen (who was the first Christian Martyr). On December 26, the boxes would be opened and the contents given to the poor.
A reference to St Stephen is made in the traditional carol, "Good King Wenceslas":
Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, tho’ the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath’ring winter fuel.
The carol was first published in Carols for Christmas-Tide in 1853.
The Victorians changed the tradition a bit. The more affluent would distribute gifts, food, and money to their servants, staff, and local tradesmen as their appreciation for their services during the year. The modern day name came from the term 'Christmas Boxes', what the British call their Christmas gifts. This tradition continues as a day of charity when money and food are donated for the poor.
Today's Boxing Day is a National Bank Holiday when families gather the day after Christmas and enjoy the left overs from the holiday meal. For years there was a tradition of Fox Hunting on Boxing Day. That came to an end in 2004 when Britain banned fox hunting. But the Brits, not to be put down (and loathe to change a tradition), continue to dress up in traditional hunt attire and follow the hounds on horses. Only now the dogs chase a scent rather than an animal.
While horse racing is a popular thing on Boxing Bay, the day has now fallen victim to modern commercialism. It has become known for shopping. There is also the "Boxing Day Test", an annual cricket match held in Australia.