As an English expatriate living in the United States, I’ve come to accept that certain English traditions I’ve grown up with may not be the norm for other families in this country.
Boxing Day is one of those beloved English traditions that seems so ordinary when discussed within the confines of my home but, when mentioned to just about anybody else, often triggers a quizzical lift of the eyebrow.
Now, that’s not to say I’ve always understood the history and meaning behind Boxing Day myself – in fact, for years I used to believe that Boxing Day got its name because Dec. 26 was a popular day to hold boxing matches – I have my nana to thank for that one.
But as each Christmas season passes, I appreciate more and more the various traditions celebrated in this country, and I’m delighted to share mine with you today.
Boxing Day is customarily celebrated the day following Christmas in England, as well as in several former English colonies such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Traditionally, collection boxes for the poor were placed in English churches during Advent – or the four weeks leading up to Christmas. These collections were then distributed the day after Christmas, on the Feast of St. Stephen.
Other lore maintains that Boxing Day was celebrated by servants and tradesmen as their day off after the busy Holiday, during which time they would receive gifts or bonuses from their employers. Servants would spend Christmas Day itself waiting on their employers (think the upstairs, downstairs relationship as portrayed in Masterpiece Theatre’s “Downton Abbey”).
Today, much like Americans associate Thanksgiving with football, for many Englishmen, Boxing Day has long been an ideal time to enjoy the national pastime, as a full schedule of professional soccer matches are played. These fixtures are some of the most anticipated of the season, because they are often played against local rivals to cut down on travel time.
For others, the day could be compared to Black Friday, since several major shops open extra early and have massive sales that day.
But for my family, Boxing Day is essentially an extension of the Christmas holiday – one more day to finish up the goose, Christmas pudding, and mince pies; pop some more Christmas crackers and don those funny paper crowns; and spend some quality time with family and friends.