Boxing Day; All Wrapped Up
by Robert Veitch
Boxing Day, oh boxing day, is it a visit to the in-laws or a visit from the outlaws? Is it a trip to the sales, or a day back at work? Maybe it’s a day to spend with the grandchildren, or a day to be free of the kids? A day to relish, a day to dread, but how did it come to be?
My childhood myth was that it was about boxing, given that was the most logical explanation to a youngster, but of course that’s not true. I got a little older and was told it was about boxes that Christmas presents were given in, that it was a day for putting them out with the rubbish. That seemed plausible for a while but again it’s not really true.
The truth is, the real reason remains unknown and the term Boxing Day is derived from more than one source, each of which remains as valid as the other and contributes to the day we have today.
In the Middle Ages alms boxes were placed in churches and collections would take place. These would be opened on Boxing Day and the contents would be shared among the poor of the Parish.
Boxing Day also earned its’ name because it was a day off for servants who had to work on Christmas Day. They would be given gift boxes in thanks for their efforts the previous day and throughout the year.
The 26th December was historically the day that trades people used to collect their Christmas box or tip while they travelled their usual round. Samuel Pepys noted it in his 17th Century diary. Tipping the milkman or the paperboy was a custom that is slowly dying out as more people get their milk from the supermarket and gather their news online. Ironically, newspapers have only been published and delivered on Boxing Day since the late twentieth century.
Boxing Day is also St. Stephen’s Day and is remembered in some places with feasting. To many people in the United Kingdom St. Stephen’s Day is most widely known via the lyric to the carol “Good King Wenceslas” from the hospitality offered by a King to a poor man gathering winter fuel.
Boxing Day has long been a day to get out of the house, a day to blow away the cobwebs and indigestion of Christmas Day with some sport. Since 1947 Kempton Park has run the King George V Chase on Boxing Day. The horses Desert Orchid and Kauto Star are both embedded in racing folklore partly due to their Boxing Day efforts. Australians look forward to the start of the Sydney – Hobart Yacht Race on 26th December as well as the Boxing Day Test that takes place at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Back in the United Kingdom football and rugby matches are ubiquitous on Boxing Day. Whether at a local or a national level, these matches are often local derbies, which minimise travel for supporters as well as adding a little spice to the atmosphere.
In more recent times the Boxing Day Sale has begun to replace the New Year Sale. Some stores open before dawn on Boxing Day, such is the retailers desire to get people in through the doors and turn the sale into an event. Not long ago this would have been unthinkable. But, such is the attraction of online shopping at Christmas, the internet age has seen bricks and mortar retailers come up with ever more imaginative ideas to claw back some of the ground they have lost to their online rivals.
A little closer to home, this Boxing Day will see the annual Ditchling Mummers seasonal play outside the Bull Hotel, which has been running annually since the late 1980’s. For the energetic there is the tenth annual Turners Hill four-mile cross-country run. And a little further afield there is the traditional Eastbourne Bandstand Concert, which has been a seafront staple since 1935.
So Boxing Day may be a day with its’ name derived from different sources, but it remains a day for all the family, with something for everyone to do. And if that is not enough, then of course there is always something else that historically began on Boxing Day – Pantomime!