Christmas has come and gone, depending on when you read this. The 26th of December has long been a day to wallow in the post Christmas malaise. Stomachs are distended, livers are rattled, and the feeling of the impending new year is setting in. Some find it a welcome reprieve from the incessant barrage of holiday cheer, and others slip into a minor depression.
Christmas for The Rich - Boxing Day for The Poor
Back in the time of peasants and lords, the divide between rich and poor was set in stone. You were born a peasant and remained in that social class until war, plague, or famine took you.
Peasants had the privilege to slave their lives away on a lord's property. This service came with the promise of protection from outside forces. They worked nearly all year-round and were allowed some freedom within the lord's territory.
Recently, there was a whimsical notion going around the internet that medieval peasants worked less than modern Americans. They certainly had more public holidays, which were spent at church due to the totalitarian control of the Catholic Church.
Scholars consider 3 possible origins for Boxing Day. The first was a day for sailors to reclaim money left to the Church in case they died at sea. Second, a day for the rich to gift vital resources to the peasants. Finally, the third has to do with the Church giving out donations to the poor, which they collected through the year.
Alms boxes were placed in churches in the 40-day period leading up to Christmas, called the Advent. Donations would be placed in the boxes and distributed by the clergy on the 26th of December, which was known as St. Stephen's Day.
St. Stephen was the patron saint of horses. He was the first Christian martyr, and had a love of performing charitable acts. Ireland still celebrates the 26th as St. Stephen's Day, as opposed to Boxing Day.
Boxing Day Traditions Around the Commonwealth
Charity, sport, and shopping form the core of Boxing Day traditions. British sport's teams traditionally compete throughout the day on 26 December. Football (Soccer for Americans). The British are also very fond of participating in fox hunts on Boxing Day.
Countries in the Southern Hemisphere, like South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia, usually have Cricket matches going on 26 December, Boxing Day.
There are some countries that actually celebrate Boxing Day with Boxing matches. Zambia, Uganda, Ghana, and Tanzania are among the short list of countries that take the name literally.
It's all in good fun. The aim of the holiday is good-natured competition and charitable acts of kindness.