Where did Boxing Day come from?
Stabroek News
December 23, 2001

Boxing Day, December 26, is celebrated in several Commonwealth countries, including England, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, various Caribbean territories and, of course, Guyana. For some reason, the United States never adopted the holiday, so for Americans Christmas remains a one-day affair.

According to David Johnson [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] writing on a Boxing Day website, the origins of the holiday are somewhat obscure. However, one of the favoured theories is that it began in the 1400s and 1500s, when the lords and ladies of the manor presented gifts in boxes to their servants and retainers. The servants were required to work on Christmas Day, so they were given a holiday on December 26. An expanded version of this claims that boy apprentices in the trades would also go around with boxes to their masters' clients to collect money on the day after Christmas.

However, says Johnson, there are competing theories. One is that the day takes its name from the alms boxes of the church, which were opened by the priests on December 26 so their contents could be distributed to the poor.

Another supposition which finds some support is that Boxing Day really goes back no further than the Victorians, when the poor would traipse from house to house with boxes, which would be filled with sweets, food and money by the wealthier classes. The better-off would also box up their old clothes and give those to the destitute. The day certainly became institutionalised in the nineteenth century, since it was declared an official bank holiday in 1871.

The hypothesising does not end there, however, since there are also adherents of the belief that Boxing Day had it genesis in Roman times. According to Johnson, money to pay for athletic games was collected in boxes, and among the ruins of Pompeii earthenware boxes full of coins and with slits at the top, have been found.

It is true that Boxing Day is nowadays associated with sport - including boxing - but everyone is agreed that that is a comparatively recent development in the English incarnation of the tradition, and that the sport of boxing is not what has given the holiday its name.

It does happen, however, that December 26 is St Stephen's Day, and St Stephen is the patron saint of horses. The day first became associated with horse-racing and hunting, therefore, which eventually extended to all sports.

The good daughter of the well-to-do family feeds the barefooted daughter of the poor.

It might be noted in passing that St Stephen himself had a rather unfortunate end, being stoned to death by a mob for his faith. Johnson says that he was one of the seven original deacons of the Christian Church who were ordained by the apostles to care for widows and the poor. He was the first Christian to be martyred for his beliefs.