Monday, December 26, 2005
St Stephen's Day
Boxing Day is the following day after Christmas Day. Like Christmas Day it is also a national holiday in England.
The name goes back to medieval times, more than 800 years ago, when alms boxes were placed at the back of every church to collect money for the poor. Traditionally, it is on this day that the alms box at every English church is opened and the contents are distributed to the poor.
Historians say the holiday developed because servants were required to work on Christmas Day, but took the following day off. As servants prepared to leave to visit their families, their employers would present them with Christmas boxes.
The Christmas boxes were made from clay and were not made in the shape of a box. They were hollow clay balls with a slit in the top.
During the late 18th century, Lords and Ladies of the manor would "box up" their leftover food, or sometimes gifts and distribute them the day after Christmas to tenants who lived and worked on their lands.
The tradition of giving money still continues today. It is customary for householders to give small gifts or monetary tips to regular visiting trades people (the milkman, dustman, coalman, paper boy etc.) and, in some work places, for employers to give a Christmas bonus to employees.
Boxing Day is also known as St. Stephen's Day (when Good King Wenceslas looked out).
'Good King Wenceslas looked out, On the Feast of Stephen...........'
He lived in Rome and was the first man to be killed for believing in the teachings of Jesus. His story is told in the Acts of the Apostles 6: 1 to 8: 2.
Some people claim that he shares this day with another St Stephen, who came from Sweden. St Stephen of Sweden is the patron saint of horses. Boxing Day has long be associated with outdoor sports, especially horse racing and hunting.
Traditionally Boxing Day is a day for fox hunting. Horse riders dressed in red and white riding gear with a pack of hounds chase foxes through the country side.
Before a Boxing Day Hunt, the huntsmen and huntswomen would drink hot wine. Hunting with dogs is now illegal in the UK.
Boxing Day is usually the day when families travel to meet together if they spent Christmas Day at their own home. It is a day of watching sports and playing board games.
Recently some shops have broken from tradition and started opening on Boxing Day to start the New Year sales. Hundreds of people now spend Boxing Day morning in queues outside shops, waiting to be the first to dive for the sales racks as the doors opened.
It is unlucky to kill a wren on any day apart from Boxing Day. A tradition not carried out today was the Hunting of the Wren on Boxing Day. Groups of young boys would hunt a wren and then tie the dead bird to the top of a pole, decorated with holly sprigs and ribbons. With blackened faces, the group would sing at houses in hopes for coins, gifts or food.
"The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
On St. Stephen's Day was caught in the furze,
Up with the penny and down with the pan,
Give us a penny to bury the wren."
Those that gave money to the boys would receive a feather from the wren as thanks. The collected money was then used to host a village dance.
This odd ritual was not restricted to England. It was prevalent in some continental countries on Boxing Day as well as the Isle of Man, Wales and Ireland.
I call it St Stephen's Day, not Boxing Day - which still confuses some people!
Oh and by the way.........The Twelve Days of Christmas, or Twelvetide, are the festive days from Christmas to Twelfth Night (the eve of the Epiphany), or December 25 to January 5 - not the 12 days before! :-)