Photo courtesy of Reuters
The British celebrate Boxing Day on Dec. 26.
By AMY ANDREWS
WASHINGTON, Dec. 16 – Have you ever turned the calendar from November to December and looked at the busy month ahead, then asked yourself, “What is Boxing Day, and why don’t I get the day off?”
This year, I set out to satisfy my curiosity and resolve my perception of what I had come to believe was fact â€“ that Boxing Day is an extra day the British take to “box” away their holiday decorations. In my quest for the truth, I found that this is not quite the case.
According to britainusa.com (the British Embassy wanted $2.45 per minute for a live chat — too pricey, I thought), Boxing Day, also known as the Feast of St. Stephen, is a day to give alms to the poor, servants and public tradesmen. It is defined as a day solely dedicated to those less fortunate, and for those who make our lives easier and safer. “How nice,” I thought.
But then I wondered, what do the British do on this day? How do they honor those less fortunate? The answer might surprise you: Nothing! Adam Thomas, a British transplant living in Boston, said that in actuality, it’s a day for family gatherings, maybe even a walk up the hills, a visit with relatives, or playing games. Thomas says most of the traditions these days are related to individual families, rather than a specific national tradition.
The holiday has origins in Great Britain, but it is not limited to the British. Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders also celebrate the day. Each country, however, creates its own customs. Thomas is going to Australia to celebrate this year. “They always watch or go to the cricket test match — this is a huge one for them,” he said.
But then where did the term Boxing Day come from, you ask? Many myths and folklore exist about its origins, none of which are linked to boxing away your holiday decor. Traditionally, the day after Christmas was a day to give gifts to those in a lower social class. There was no expectation of a returned gift; instead, the day was a way to preserve the division of classes in the old British hierarchy.
I find this factoid a little disturbing, as I recall learning in my fourth grade U.S. history class “…that all men are created equal.” What started as segregation of the rich and poor in the middle ages has today evolved into a national bank holiday for our British allies. To me, this seems quite unfortunate, only serving as a reminder of an archaic class system, a system our own founding fathers fought to abandon.
As Americans, we often complain that the British get more vacation, more holidays than we do. However, looking beneath the surface of Boxing Day, I no longer envy the British for having a longer holiday. If I take a moment and look around me, I see people everywhere living out their personal versions of the “American dream.” For me, this is more promising and more inspiring than having an extra day off work.