Some suggest that the origins of Boxing Day can be found during the Victorian Era, but it appears to have begun much earlier..
“Good King Wenceslas Looked Out On The Feast Of Stephen”
The traditional Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas” points us to a 10th century start to the Boxing Day tradition. Wenceslas, a 10th century Bohemian Duke, surveyed his land on St. Stephen’s Day (Dec. 26) and saw a peasant gathering wood in the middle of a snowstorm. Moved with compassion, Wenceslas collected food and wine from his own stores and took them through the storm to the peasant’s home. His charitable deed became associated with St. Stephan’s day, making it a day for acts of charity toward the needy.
Medieval Connections to Boxing Day
During the Middle Ages, churches maintained collection boxes for the poor. By tradition, these boxes were opened and the contents distributed to the poor on the feast of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. The association with the alms boxes may have led to the appellation, Boxing Day.
Boxing Day in the Georgian Era
Giving ‘Christmas Boxes’ to charity and servants was the custom on St Stephen’s Day, now called Boxing Day. The well-off were expected to be particularly generous. Old clothing and extra items were boxed up and handed out to servants and tradesmen who visited that day.
Servants were often given the day off to celebrate Christmas with their families since their well-off employers required their service on Christmas Day.
A second St. Stephen, a 9th century martyr and patron saint of horses gave rise to another Boxing Day tradition, horse racing and fox hunting.
Boxing Day also saw the start of Christmastide pantos. Rather than marking the end of the holiday season as we might consider it, Boxing Day started the festivities that would culminate on Twelfth Night.
Read a scene of Boxing Day Charity here.
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