Saturday, December 26, 2015

Boxing Day

If you are a visitor from Great Britain, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand, you are familiar with Boxing Day.  I, on the other hand, had never heard of it until a few years ago, when a dear friend on a Yahoo group added it to the calendar to be posted on December 26.  That's when I went looking for a good explanation of the day.  Just to let everyone who doesn't live in one of these countries know, Boxing Day has been a national holiday in England, Wales, Ireland, and Canada since 1871.

So what is Boxing Day?  First, it does NOT mean the day to get rid of your leftover Christmas boxes, nor does it mean it's the day to duke it out with family who refuse to leave, nor does it mean it's a day to return boxes of unwanted gifts to the store for a refund or something you truly desire.  Instead, in the US (and even Canada), it is a day of deep discounts, usually up to 50% - 75% off most items.  Highly sought out Christmas ornaments, cards, and wrappings are what many female shoppers are looking for.  After that (and for most men), the most sought items include electronics and high end toys.

England and Canada's Boxing Day evolved into a major shopping event in the 1980s.  Think of it as the equivalent of Black Friday. But this year, many of the sales started earlier in an effort to boost the economy where the warm weather we in the U.S. have experienced created an inverse effect on sluggish sales.

But that doesn't really explain Boxing Day, or its origins.

Boxing Day roots can be traced to Britain, where it's also known as St. Stephen's Day.  Think of the song "Good King Wenceslas" where he saw a poor man in the snow, on the "Feast of Stephen."

Just as we Americans watch football on Thanksgiving, my British friends have Boxing Day rugby or soccer matches (what many British refer to as football) and horse races.

The Irish still refer to the holiday as St. Stephen's Day, and they have their own tradition called hunting the wren, in which boys fasten a fake wren to a pole and parade it through town. Also known as Wren Day, the tradition supposedly dates to 1601, to the Battle of Kinsale.

In Holland, some collection boxes were made out of earthenware pottery and were shaped like pigs.  This may be where  the term "Piggy Bank" originated.

An old tradition in Germany suggests that horses were ridden inside the church during the St. Stephen's Day service.

The Bahamas celebrate Boxing Day with a street parade and festival called Junkanoo, in which traditional dancers fill the streets with their elaborate costumes and headdresses.

Let's return to the Christmas carol, where Wenceslas, I learned, was the Duke of Bohemia who reigned in the early 10th century.  He was apparently wandering around on his land on St. Stephen's Day when he saw a poor man gathering wood in the middle of a snowstorm.  Moved, the King gathered surplus food and wine and carried them through the blizzard to the peasant's door. The tradition has always been closely associated with the Christmas season, hence the canned-food drives and Salvation Army Santas that pepper our U.S. neighborhoods during the winter.  However, King Wenceslas' good deed came the day after Christmas, when the English poor received (and apparently still receive) most of their charity.

As an aside, I learned there were actually two St. Stephens.  The first Stephen lived in Rome and was the first man to be killed for believing in the teachings of Jesus. His story is told in Acts of the Apostles 6: 1 to 8: 2.   There is also evidence that he shares this day with another St Stephen, who came from Sweden. St Stephen of Sweden is the patron saint of horses.  It stands to reason because Boxing Day has long been associated with outdoor sports, especially horse racing and hunting.

I can't find anywhere that King Wenceslas started Boxing Day, but the Church of England might have. During Advent, Anglican parishes used a locked box which churchgoers put their monetary donations in. On the day after Christmas, the boxes were opened and their contents distributed among the poor, thus possibly giving rise to this scenario.

Similar to that is the "Alms" box which was placed in every church on Christmas Day, into which worshipers placed a gift for the poor who lived in the parish. The box was opened the day after Christmas and distributed to the needy.

Centuries ago, during feudal times, landowners (or manor lords) often brought everyone together for Christmas.  Since all the people who lived on the manor, mostly serfs, were in one place, it was easy to pass out the yearly necessities.  Each family got a box, depending on their status, and handing out supplies to the serfs was made easy for the manor lord.  In this scenario, the annual restocking became known as Boxing Day and was an obligation of the lord of the manor.

Since we're talking ancient times, another theory involves the merchant class, who often gave gifts to tradespeople or servants the day after Christmas, much like we in the U.S. give pre-Christmas gifts or tips to our paper or mail carrier, or person who tends our lawns or swimming pools.  Those gifts from days gone by were packed in boxes, so the day came to be known as Boxing Day.  In this scenario, the gift was strictly voluntary, and didn't involve an obligation. 

In the 1400s, during the Age of Exploration, when sailing ships were setting off to discover new lands, a Christmas Box was used as a good luck device. It was a small container placed on each ship while it was still in port. It was put there by a priest, and those crewmen who wanted to ensure a safe return would drop money into the box. It was then sealed up and kept on board for the entire voyage.  In this scenario, if the ship came home safely, the box was handed over to the priest in the exchange for a mass of thanks for a successful voyage. The priest would keep the box sealed until the day after Christmas when he would open it to share the contents with the poor.

Another version of Boxing Day is that servants brought their own boxes to the master the day after Christmas.  Each master put small amounts of coins in the boxes.  This scenario is similar to the second theory above, in that the master was not obligated to give gifts or coins, and the servants did not depend on the master for their yearly food, clothing, and other necessities.
  Yet another scenario is that the day after Christmas was the traditional day on which the aristocracy distributed presents (boxes) to servants and employees, much like our modern day Christmas bonus or company sponsored Christmas party. The servants returned home, opened their boxes and had a second Christmas on what became known as Boxing Day.

This scenario involves an old English tradition. Since servants had to wait on their masters on Christmas Day, the servants of the wealthy were given the next day off to visit their families. Each servant was given a box to take home containing gifts, bonuses, and often leftover food.

Similar to the scenario above, during the late 18th century, Lords and Ladies of the manor would "box up" their leftover food and distribute them the day after Christmas to tenants who lived and worked on their lands.  The delivery was made by the aristocracy instead of the servants taking them with them at the end of Christmas day.

One final thought hits close to home.  Being of British ancestry, and growing up in a VERY traditional British household, I remember my grandmother (my grandparents raised me from birth) telling me that when my blood grandfather died when my mother was three, she didn't remarry until my mother was 14.  When she did, her parents disavowed her, saying she had married BELOW HER STATION.  To think that attitude was still considered appropriate in the early 1950s in America is beyond my comprehension.  But they (my grandmother's parents) apparently ran a very upstairs/downstairs home, one of which I am glad I was never exposed to.

However, that very thread is common in all the above scenarios, in that they all divide individuals by class, where the less fortunate, or "lower classes" are given gifts the day after Christmas, not before.  And observing the true meaning (or any of the above scenarios) of Boxing Day helps promote those class distinctions.

So which scenario is correct?  And which Boxing Day scenario do you prefer?  Even the British can't seem to agree when, where, how, or why Boxing Day came about.  They just know it's a bank holiday where presents have already been opened and a lavish meal has already been eaten.  And I doubt they are thinking about class distinction either.  After all, this IS the 21st century, not the middle ages, or the 20th century for that matter.
 Since this is a mixed media collage, I'm sharing it with Art Journal Journey where Valerie is the host this month.

Each box is a bit different.  For the top left box, I used pigment ink and a stencil over which I tried to stencil diamonds using NuPastels.  The box assembly below it had a recycled book page left over from my Christmas cards and a piece of red paper I drew a ribbon on.  Below that was a sticker.

For the right side, on the far right top, I glued two pieces of red paper together with a piece of spritzed book page.  To the left of that was a sticker, to which I attached two pieces of corrugated cardboard I colored using the NuPastel that came off the page background.  I added a bit of leftover spritzed book page to the bottom box.  Working our way right, you see three red pieces of colored copier/printer paper I added pigment ink to.  I further colored them using three different ink pens denoting ribbon.  The final box was another leftover spritzed book page over which I added part of a napkin.

Enjoy Boxing Day whether your country celebrates it or not.  After all, we artists don't really need an excuse to celebrate, do we?  Thanks, too, for visiting and joining me at Art Journal Journey, also.  I enjoyed learning about boxing day several years ago, and I hope you learned something too.  I know I learned I may never learn the true origin of Boxing Day!  

16 thoughtful remarks:

Valerie-Jael said...

Love your Boxing Day Collage, and also the explanations for Boxing day. When I was a kid, Boxing day morning was the day when tradesmen, post and delivery men called to wish a merry Christmas, and got a tip, usually a small amount of money together with a glass of sherry and a biscuit (cookie). And then most people visited relations or friends for dinner and cake etc. It was not considered good manners to visit on the 25th, so that was always a boring day at home! Thanks for waking lots of memories with our collage. Have a lovely day, hugs, Valerie

Viktoria Berg said...

This is all so interesting, and your pages illustrate the text so well. The British seems to still be very preoccupied with the idea of class. My husband had a tutor/supervisor on his PhD that was English and they often travelled together on conferences. He commented on both the husband's choice of restaurants and on his choice of wine to bring home to me (this is when I still drank wine) that they were choices "above his class". It doesn't really fit to apply the British class standard on someone from a different culture, but he sure did anyway! Interesting glimps of the English psyche, I thought. I imagine your grandmother would have felt it was inappropriate, too.

froebelsternchen Susi said...

Your collage is precious - so many details! WOW!
I learned now sooo much new to me about this "Stefanitag" and class differences during the past, that I nearly have a guilty conscience about my voluptuous Stefaniebraten - it was sooo yummie---
Oh I am so glad to live in the 21 century ..really!!!
Aren't we a blessend generation --- grandfathers and grandmothers affected by world war I and II. And all the genertaions before - and all the social injustices of past centuries
... life was never as good as now - - so sorry that the people of the world are not able to live in peace and make sure that nobody is suffering.
Happy Boxing Day to you !
Thank you so much for another fabulous collage with journaling to Art Journal Journey Elizabeth♥♥♥

Divers and Sundry said...

We love the Good King Wenceslas carol and so have always leaned towards making note of the Feast of Stephen. We like keeping the celebrations going through the 12 days of Christmas :)

I've heard the feelings about class in England are similar to the feelings about race here in the U.S.

My name is Erika. said...

How interesting. I loved your post about Boxing Day. I have heard of it many times but never really new what it was about. And I read your comments and I agree with Susi. How nice to be alive now (even with all the horrible things in our world) and at least have all those terms of race and class maybe breaking down. I would say they are but after the California bombing a few weeks ago, and after Paris, I wonder how much they really are. Anyhow, your collage is beautiful and I am glad I stopped by to read your post! Enjoy the rest of this holiday weekend, and your boxing day too!

Nancy said...

It's great to get to see your journal and learn some history along with it. Interesting to know the different perspectives on the tradition. I really like how corrugated cardboard looks in a journal spread- must use more of it. I admire how you keep up with the various link-up groups! You stay plenty busy.

Pamela Gerard said...

Happy Boxing day to you -- wonderful pages and an interesting read this morning to start my day (with Cappuccino!).

BJ said...

What a lovely page for Boxing Day. As a Brit myself I tend to take Boxing Day for granted, it always follows Christmas Day and is always a Bank Holiday (unless it falls on the weekend and like Christmas Day the following working day will be given as a Bank Holiday, like this year in fact as the next official working day is Tuesday 29th). I always remember an old boyfriend who was born on Boxing Day so ALWAYS had the day off until he moved to America!!!

Thanks for visiting me, lovely to hear from you. I really must get my act together next year in the crafting department. I am pending creating a new blog/name to bring it in line with my new email address, just need to find the time to sort that one out. There will be a link from the old one, not sure you can just "change" an existing one. Perhaps I can do that now....

Happy everything Elizabeth, one of your British friends!! BJ

pearshapedcrafting said...

You are right Elizabeth - there are so many views on why Boxing Day is so-called! My Mum used to say it was the day servants were given Christmas boxes - Christmas Day itself being devoted to serving "the family". My Mum and Gran were both in service in their younger days. In those days it was definitely a class thing. Today the Sales have started in some shops, some stayed shut as in the old traditional way when both days were Bank Holidays! Now it seems that shop assistants are expected to work - and presumably late on Christmas Eve too in order to be ready for some of the crazy 6 a.m.starts today! I remember that Christmas day was the day Grandma and Grandad came on the bus (one to the the village each day and then returned around 6p.m on the one bus back ) Boxing Day was the day we would walk to my Gran and Granpa's in the morning and walk back in the evening - whatever the weather even though it was the same bus route to her village!! Off to watch a film on TV now! Hugs, Chris

BJ said...

Hi Elizabeth, in response to my new making machine page and didn't realise I was on your side board, I feel honoured of the latter, no problem at all. Anyway as for washing machines, top loaders are an unusual thing here in the UK. My 89yr old neighbour has a half size one but it is from the ark! I knoW as I popped round with a load of unspun washing when mine broke but we couldn't get it to just spin so I had to wring by hand. Good job it was summer! I don't even know if you can buy to loaders anymore? I kneel on the floor to fill my front loader and do the same to empty it but with the basket on the floor in front you just pull the washing out bit by bit straight into the basket. I guess picking the basket up could be a problem but I just pop mine on the chair next to the machine as the washing goes on the creel in the same room. So glad we are catching up, BJ

BJ said...

PS I am on a tablet a lot of the time now and the auto correct had a veto (read very) unusual way with its words so making in my previous post ought to have said washing. Hi bum (oops ought to have read Ho Hum) now that has made my ROFL, ( ME EVEN!) BJ

Meggymay said...

I am having my catch up reads of your post this evening, but had to stop here. This is a very thought provoking post Elizabeth and I am so pleased we live in this century. Boxing day has never been truly defined for me and I only have the experience of what it has meant to my family. As a child Christmas day was spent with the grandparents and Boxing Day was at home with the parents. This all changed when I had my family as mum said you stay home we'll come to you, how wise this proved to be. On to Boxing day the milkman and the window cleaners were always given a tip, Gran used to say this means we will get better service in the coming year.
Now can I see this happening now, a big no. We have no milkman delivering and window cleaners are hard to find. So times change, for the better I hope.
Yvonne xx

Susan Crowford said...

A very lovely thing on Boxing Day! Thanks for sharing, dear!

chrissie said...

A terrific post Elizabeth with so much research by you. Thank you for sending me the link.

Yesterday a lot of our shops had Sales and certainly about a 100 very brave souls braved a dip in the sea as they always do on Boxing Day. Racing and Football on television as well.

Enjoy your day today

Love Chrissie xx

Eileen The Artful Crafter said...

This is fascinating, Elizabeth. Canadian friends have told me about clearing away the Christmas wrappings and returning gifts. It's nice to know there's so much more than that to Boxing Day.

RO said...

Wow! You've shared some really great information here, and you know I love learning new trivia in case I end up on Jeopardy. I like the thought of placing gifts in the boxes and giving them to those in need, but it's interesting to see how others see it based on history. How in the world did I miss that you have a British background which is super cool to know, and a reason for me to pick your brain for more history. Yay! I sure hope your Saturday is amazing, and thanks again! Hugs...RO