Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Boxing Day

Boxing Day is a traditional celebration, dating back to the Middle Ages, and consisted of the practice of giving out gifts to employees, the poor, or to people in a lower social class. The name has numerous folk etymologies; the Oxford English Dictionary attributes it to the Christmas box; the verb box meaning: "To give a Christmas-box (colloq.); whence boxing-day." Outside the Commonwealth, the day is still celebrated but just with a different name.

Folk etymologies
The more common stories include:

It was the day when people would give a present or Christmas box to those who had worked for them throughout the year.

In feudal times, Christmas was a reason for a gathering of extended families. All the serfs would gather their families in the manor of their lord, which made it easier for the lord of the estate to hand out annual stipends to the serfs. After all the Christmas parties on 26 December, the lord of the estate would give practical goods such as cloth, grains, and tools to the serfs who lived on his land. Each family would get a box full of such goods the day after Christmas. Under this explanation, there was nothing voluntary about this transaction; the lord of the manor was obliged to supply these goods. Because of the boxes being given out, the day was called Boxing Day.

In England many years ago, it was common practice for the servants to carry boxes to their employers when they arrived for their day's work on the day after Christmas. Their employers would then put coins in the boxes as special end-of-year gifts. This can be compared with the modern day concept of Christmas bonuses. The servants carried boxes for the coins, hence the name Boxing Day.

In churches, it was traditional to open the church's donation box on Christmas Day, and the money in the donation box was to be distributed to the poorer or lower class citizens on the next day. In this case, the "box" in "Boxing Day" comes from that lockbox in which the donations were left.

Boxing Day was the day when the wren, the king of birds, was captured and put in a box and introduced to each household in the village when he would be asked for a successful year and a good harvest. See Frazer's Golden Bough.

Evidence can also be found in Wassail songs such as:

Where are you going ? said Milder to Malder,
Oh where are you going ? said Fessel to Foe,
I'm going to hunt the cutty wren said Milder to Malder,
I'm going to hunt the cutty wren said John the Rednose.
And what will you do wi' it ? said Milder to Malder,
And what will you do wi' it ? said Fessel to Foe,
I'll put it in a box said Milder to Malder,
I'll put it in a box said John the Rednose.


Because the staff had to work on such an important day as Christmas by serving the master of the house and their family, they were given the following day off. As servants were kept away from their own families to work on a traditional religious holiday and were not able to celebrate Christmas Dinner, the customary benefit was to "box" up the leftover food from Christmas Day and send it away with the servants and their families. (Similarly, as the servants had the 26th off, the owners of the manor may have had to serve themselves pre-prepared, boxed food for that one day.) Hence the "boxing" of food became "Boxing Day".

Date
In common usage, 26 December is continually referred to as Boxing Day whichever day of the week it occurs on. If it falls on a Sunday then in countries where it is a Bank Holiday the Statutory Holiday is moved to Monday 27 December to ensure a day without work. As Christmas Day would therefore be a Saturday, Tuesday 28 December is also declared as a holiday in lieu.

In some Commonwealth countries, fixed-date holidays falling on Saturday or Sunday are often observed on the next weekday, so if Boxing Day falls on a Saturday then Monday 28 December is a public holiday; in the UK and other countries this is accomplished by Royal Proclamation. If Christmas Day falls on a Sunday itself then the Boxing Day holiday is automatically on Monday 26 December, and no Royal Proclamation is required. In such a circumstance, a 'substitute bank holiday in lieu of Christmas Day' is declared for Tuesday 27 December, this being the next available working day - thus the Boxing Day holiday occurs before the substitute Christmas holiday.

Although the same legislation (Bank Holidays Act 1871) originally established the Bank Holidays throughout the British Isles, the holiday after Christmas was defined as Boxing Day in England and Wales and St Stephen's Day for Ireland. St Stephen's Day is fixed as the 26 December.

While Boxing Day is actually on December 26 many retailers who hold Boxing Day Sales will actually run these sales for several days following December 26 often up to New Years Eve.

That is what Wikipedia has about Boxing Day. However, there is something that used to happen in the Eastern Bloc nations in the 13th century where the entire village would get together to eat and amoung the peasantry, small rye loaves where dispensed one each to the men and small grain loaves one each to the woman. In each type of loaf, one of them contained a bean. The man and woman who each received a loaf became the King and Queen of Misrule and often at the urging of the others engaged in finding ways to humiliate the gentry. This was all in good fun although it did not get past a certain point with the local figurehead, as the next day everyone returned to their normal station in life... and surely denegrating your sixth day lord and master is never a good idea...

Much more fun!

1 comment:

CrystalChick said...

This was an interesting read. Today, for me, it was a stay in bed late day. I'll get to all the cleaning up that wasn't accomplished yesterday altho that might take the rest of the week. Today is also our friends birthday.
I hope you and your love had a wonderful holiday and continue to be blessed with many good things in the new year!