In many countries, Boxing Day observed today, the 26th of December. Many parts of Europe and Canada all celebrate the day, but it means different things in different countries.
In Canada, Boxing Day is often associated in people’s minds with the retail business – after Christmas Sales, and returning the gifts that didn’t fit or are already broken! (Recently I learned there’s a similar day in the USA – the day after American Thanksgiving is a huge day for retail sales). The retail aspect has changed in recent years, as some stores are required to stay closed on the actual day, or they do not allow returns (retail stores fight back by claiming it’s “Boxing Week”!). Boxing Day 2005 was the biggest day for retail stores in Canada’s history.
In practice, Boxing Day is an extension of Christmas Day – another day with family, a day of rest. Many families have special dinners on the day after Christmas, and exchange gifts. In a country like Canada where Christmas has become so rushed, it’s great to have the extra day (for those who actually get it).
The funny thing about Boxing Day, though, is that most people don’t know where it came from, and those who do “know” disagree. It’s still a mystery wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a box. There are various theories, none that satisfy the general population. However, we do know something about the significance of the day, even though we don’t know for sure what boxing has to do with it.
Courtesy of Wikipedia
Boxing Day is also the Feast of Stephen – referring to Christianity’s first martyr. This may ring a bell, if you’ve been singing Christmas carols. That’s right, Good King Wenceslas helped a poor man on the Feast of Stephen. Wenceslas was the Duke of Bohemia. He was raised a Christian – his father was introduced to Christ through missionary brothers Cyril and Methodius. Whether or not the story in the carol is true, it does remind us of one of the original meanings of Boxing Day – giving to the poor.
In Britain, giving to the poor, or the “poorer-than-you” was a Boxing Day event. Employers might give a bonus to thier employees. Or goods like clothes might be given to the poor. Servants, who would work on Christmas Day, would have the following day off and might take home some of the leftovers from the Christmas feast. Remember in Dicken’s A Christmas Carol – it’s the poverty-stricken employee Bob Cratchit who gets the raise -
“A merry Christmas, Bob! A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you, for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit!”
Many of us are humbled on Christmas by all that God has blessed us with. Perhaps it’s time to revive the tradition – to give back a little to those in need right away. Right away, before the old bitterness or unthankfulness of our human nature takes hold again. Is there someone you know in need? Or perhaps you could give the basics to a family somewhere else in the world. Maybe Boxing Day, instead of being just another day to think about the stores, can be a day to give from all God has given us.
You who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing.
~ From Good King Wenceslas by John M Neale