Growing up a pack of Australian wild colonial boys in Southeast Asia, there was a bit of a disconnect for my brothers and I. Due to the British influence, our family followed the holiday traditions of a place we boys had never set foot in. I came away from my first Guy Fawkes bonfire at the British Club as mystified as before it was explained to me. Due to the war in neighboring ex-French Indochina we were surrounded by Americans, and we were slowly becoming Americanized. Thus, to me, Guy Fawkes is 'British Halloween'. The one I could never figure is 'Boxing Day.'
Why is it call 'Boxing Day'?
We kids struggled with this one. Is it because this is the day they throw out all the boxes? Perhaps - in ancient times - boxing matches were traditionally held on this day?
One explanation the grownups offered was that this is the day when wealthy people and homeowners in Britain would give a box containing a gift to their servants.
It turns out this latter is closer to the truth - but why would it be called 'Boxing Day'? After all, there are more boxes around on Christmas Day. Why don't they just call it 'Servants Day'? Maybe it's because not everybody has servants?
The Origins of Boxing Day
In the old, old days, an 'Alms Box' was placed in every church on Christmas Day, into which worshipers placed gifts for the poor of the parish. These boxes were always opened the day after Christmas, which is why that day became known as 'Boxing Day'.
This tradition still continues to this day, when householders give small gifts or monetary tips to visiting tradespeople; the garbage man, the paper boy, etcetera. Often, organizations get together gifts to be put into Christmas boxes that are sent to the poor.
However, there is another origin of the term 'Boxing Day': During the Age of Exploration, when sailing ships were setting off to discover new lands, a 'Christmas Box' was used as a good luck device.
The Christmas Box was a small container placed on the ship when it was still in port. It was put there by the priest, into which the crewmen who wanted to ensure a safe return would drop money into the box. It was then sealed up and kept onboard for the entire voyage.
If the ship came home safely, the box was handed over to the priest in exchange for the saying of a Mass of thanks for the success of the voyage. The Priest would keep the box sealed until Christmas, when he would open it to share the contents with the poor.
Boxing Day Down Under
It's summertime right now in Australia, and Christmas Down Under is sort of like how it was for us kids growing up in the tropics - not really the same as up here in the Northern Hemisphere. There is a special event, however, which ties in the maritime origins of the term 'Boxing Day': the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race starts in Sydney, Australia every Boxing Day and finishes in Hobart, Tasmania. The race distance is approximately 630 nautical miles (1,170 km). The race is widely considered to be one of the most difficult yacht races in the world.
I spent a couple Christmas's in Sydney and have personally witnessed this amazing spectacle from The Heads, the large promontories overlooking the entrance to Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour).
HAPPY BOXING DAY!
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