Boxing Day, also known as St Stephen’s Day is a public holiday celebrated on the 26th of December by most countries in the Commonwealth.
There are a couple of versions of the origin of Boxing Day. In Queen Victoria’s reign, Boxing Day was when the aristocracy, to ensure their Christmas Day ran smoothly, gave boxes to their servants, containing leftover food or bonuses and allowed them to go home to visit their families.
Another possible origin is from the boxes placed in churches during Advent for parishioners to contribute money. The boxes were opened on 26th December and the contents distributed among the poor.
In Ireland, the day is known as St Stephen’s Day, commemorating the first Christian martyr and in South Africa it is called Day of Goodwill.
Boxing Day is the subject of the Christmas carol, Good King Wenceslas. On this day King Wenceslas, the Duke of Bohemia, looked out on the Feast of Stephen and saw a poor man trudging through the snow, gathering winter fuel. So he went out in the blizzard and delivered meat, wine and pine logs to the poor man’s door.
Sadly, Boxing Day celebrations nowadays don’t necessarily involve charity. Here in Australia they revolve around bargain shopping, cricket matches and the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. Horse racing was also a popular feature, as you can see in this poem by John O’Brien, about a bishop visiting an outback school to test religious knowledge:
“And oh, how pleased his lordship was, and how he smiled to say,
‘That’s good, my boy. Come tell me now; and what is Christmas Day?’
The ready answer bared a fact no bishop ever knew –
‘It’s the day before the races out at Tangmalangmaloo.’ “
For many, it’s a day of recovery after the excesses of eating and drinking the day before, and playing with new presents of course. If you’re lucky enough to get a new crossword magazine in your Christmas stocking, you might be spending Boxing Day solving clues.
For more fascinating word facts like this, check out Prize Puzzles.