I was probably about eleven years old when the family acquired a wall calendar that listed holidays in fine print at the bottom of each square. There were lots of holidays on the pages, familiar ones like Independence Day and New Years Day. The puzzle for me were the arcane holidays that people of different nations and cultures celebrated.
I asked my dad and teachers what they were and the meanings of them. I learned about Yom Kippur, Bodhi Day, and Dewali and how they were connected with world religions and customs. It was around the same time that I spotted “Boxing Day” printed at the bottom of the space for December 26th. I asked my best friend, John what he thought Boxing Day was all about.
John went into a long-winded story about how folks in the “olden days” were cooped up indoors for days on end in the winter. They got onto each others’ nerves because of spending so much time packed in close quarters together for so long. After all the hubbub and emotions of Christmas and folks not getting the presents they had hoped to receive, they were all ready to fight.
So back in those “olden days”, men and boys had fist fights to release the tension. But there were a lot of problems with broken jaws and missing teeth that the government invented the sport of boxing. People watching the boxing matches would release their tension just by seeing two men duke it out. The first boxing matches were held on the day after Christmas. That’s all there was to it.
Something didn’t seem quite right about John’s story. I must have looked skeptical, because he soon swore on his honor as my “blood-brother” that is what his dad told him. I kept quiet about the explanation until I could talk to my teacher, privately.
Later, at school, during recess, I asked my teacher, Mr. Roberts about Boxing Day. He asked if I knew anything about it from family and friends. I explained that I had only seen the name on the calendar, then I relayed John’s explanation of the holiday. Mr. Roberts burst out with a grand old belly laugh. He snorted that the story wasn’t quite true. He knew that John’s dad liked to bet on prize fights. My pal’s dad often bet on Sonny Liston’s matches. In fact, there was a lot of buzz still going on about the first round knock out of Floyd Patterson in September.
Mr. Roberts said he would explain the holiday to the entire class after recess. He promised to be careful because John was certain to be upset with the real story.
Most people in the United States have no idea what Boxing Day means. Even some Canadians think the day is the time to rid the home of empty boxes from Christmas or to bring boxes of gifts to be exchanged to the malls.
Actually, Boxing Day began in Victorian Britain and the Empire. It is rooted in the common practice of giving money and necessary goods to people of the lower classes during St. Stephen’s Day. These gifts were frequently placed within boxes. Hence, Boxing Day.
Some people maintain that long ago merchants gave boxes of food to their employees and servants the day after Christmas as a sort of winter time tip. Others believe that on the day after Christmas, servants carried boxes to their masters as they arrived to work. The employers placed cloth and leather goods along with basic foodstuffs into the boxes.
At the same time, alms boxes were placed in churches for holiday donations to the needy. The contents of the alms boxes were distributed by the priests to the poor on the day following Christmas.
There is a host of other explanations, but these are the most widely known and taught versions.
Oh, it turns out that maybe John’s dad might have been partially correct. Many places in Britain and her former colonies, on the 26th, have sporting matches like Cricket, Rugby and sometimes, yes, boxing.
The Blue Jay of Happiness hopes you have a meaningful and peaceful Boxing Day.