In British Commonwealth countries, Boxing Day is what you make of it, from retail sales to polar swimming to sports competitions.
Our family tradition was molded back in 1988 with two-pound lobsters and too, too many vodka shooters. (That’s my late wife hoisting the Absolut and listing to starboard in the photo above.)
We had so much fun that day that we pledged to commemorate it annually. Ever since then our little nuclear family has tried to always be together on Boxing Day. With Jo Anne’s passing, we still gather over steamed lobsters to toast her memory with too, too many vodka shooters—just as she would want us to.
This year was no exception, except . . .
. . . Jo Anne is no longer here to boil the lobsters, and none of us wanted to take on the courageous act of plunging lobsters into boiling water. So my daughters, three grandsons, and I spent the evening at a seafood house on the Connecticut shore, where chefs out of sight in the kitchen performed what one of the boys called the “lobster holocaust.”
Many Americans aren’t plugged into Boxing Day. But this special day is observed on December 26 every year, mostly in British Commonwealth nations like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
December 26 is also a national holiday in Ireland, where it’s called Saint Stephen's Day.
Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was stoned to death for being a follower of Christ. He is the patron saint of Hungary, deacons, headaches, coffin makers, masons—and horses, which is why Boxing Day came to be associated in the UK with horse racing and fox hunting.
The roots of Boxing Day might be traced to ancient Roman times when money for athletic games was collected in boxes. Among the ruins of Pompeii were earthenware boxes with slits in the top. The boxes were full of coins. Romans brought the idea of collection boxes to Britain, and monks and clergy soon used similar boxes to collect money for the poor at Christmas. On the day after Christmas, the clerics distributed the money to the poor—Boxing Day.
We know Boxing Day traditions go as far back as 1663, thanks to an entry in Samuel Pepys' diary.
British servants to the wealthy had to work on Christmas Day. So their employers gave them Christmas gifts the following day, and time off to spend with their families.
It also was customary for service and tradespeople to collect “Christmas boxes” of money or gifts on the first weekday after Christmas as a thank you for good service through the year.
During the Victorian era, churches often displayed a box into which parishioners dropped donations.
With the curtailment of fox hunting in modern times, the day has become associated with sports—particularly football and rugby.
Boxing Day is also a time when the Brits show their eccentricity by taking part in all kinds of bizarre traditions, including swims in the icy English Channel, fun runs, and charity events.
Much like “Black Friday” after Thanksgiving Thursday, Boxing Day has evolved into a major shopping extravaganza in countries where it is observed. In fact, many retailers start their Boxing Day online sales on Christmas Eve—or earlier.
But more than anything else, I think, Boxing Day is a special day to spread the love and joy of Christmas one more time.
Unless you’re the lobster.
If you enjoyed reading this, you will like my newest book, Saints and Poets, Maybe: One Hundred Wanderings, available at: Amazon.