Boxing Day or December 26 is the day that follows Christmas and has been a national holiday in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada and Australia for over a hundred years. British watch soccer all day long on Boxing Day, just as Americans watch football on Thanksgiving. Boxing Day horse races are also quite popular in Britain.
It is also customary for wealthy Brits, or those who live in the country to participate in fox-hunting on Boxing Day. However, this annual Boxing Day tradition of fox-hunting, which has been held in the English countryside for hundreds of years is in the danger of being banned in the near future because of protests from animal rights activists. Animal rights activists had their first victory against the tradition back in 2005 when the British Parliament banned the traditional method of using hunting dogs in the fox hunts.
Many cultures around the world have their own version of the Boxing Day. The Irish refer to the holiday on December 26 as St. Stephen’s Day and participate in a tradition called hunting the wren, where children faster a fake wren to a pole and parade it around. St. Stephen’s Day is hence also called as the Wren Day.
This is a tradition that dates back to 1601 and has its origins in the Battle of Kinsale in which, as a legend goes, the Irish tried to attack the English invaders at the crack of dawn, but were betrayed by a noisy wren, which just wouldn’t shut up!
For this reason, the Irish created a custom of hunting a live wren and killing it during the parade on St. Stephen’s Day. However, with the march of modernity, killing a live wren was considered to be a cruel practice, was deemed unnecessary and replaced by a fake wren.
Boxing Day is celebrated in the Bahamas as well, with a festival called Junkanoo, in which the streets are filled with people dancing and singing and having a lot of fun.
In England, Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Boxing Day is a major shopping event, much the same as Thanksgiving and Black Friday in the US. It’s a great time for stores across the UK as products worth hundreds of millions of pounds get sold in super quick time. There’s always a lot if optimism in the UK on Boxing Day, with consumer activity at unprecedented levels, which is a major confidence booster for the national economy.
The surprising thing about Boxing Day in the UK is that nobody really knows when people started celebrating the day or why. There is a lot of confusion over the origins of Boxing Day. Some believe that its origins can be found in the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas”.
Wenceslas was the Duke of Bohemia in the early 10th century and was said to have been surveying his land on December 26. He happened to see a peasant collecting firewood in the middle of a snowstorm. The King gathered some food and wine and carried them to the poor man’s door. The kindness and generosity of the Good King Wenceslas has since found a life of its own and is celebrated today as Boxing Day.
However, King Wenceslas did not start Boxing Day. It was probably started by the Church of England. It became customary for Anglican parishes to display a box to collect donations from churchgoers during the Advent. The day after Christmas – on December 26 – the boxes were opened and the money distributed among the poor and the underprivileged. Hence the name, “Boxing Day”.
There are others who say that the origins of Boxing Day are to be found in an old tradition in which the aristocracy distributed boxes with gifts to servants and employees. This may be compared to Christmas bonus parties organized by businesses across the country to reward their employees for their service. The servants and employees opened the boxes upon returning home and celebrated the occasion with great joy and happiness with their families.
Boxing Day’s origins may or may not have a religious significance, but that’s not really important to Brits, who are not known to be a particularly religious sort. Boxing Day in the UK has more to do with getting together with friends and watching football (or soccer), having great food and a lot of shopping, than with charity or visiting churches. It’s a happy day, on which everyone is in a great mood, and there’s a general wave of optimism and goodwill throughout the country.