What’s not to like about the Christmas holiday season? Whether one is religious or not, the appeal of the end of December is practically universal across North America and much of the Western world. Brightly decorated homes and Christmas trees, sparkling lights and glittering gifts, familiar carols and nostalgic traditions, festive gatherings, rapturous feasts and, above all, time off. No other time of year is marked by two statutory holidays in a row. However, while most are familiar with the real meaning behind Christmas Day, how many actually have an inkling as to what Boxing Day is all about?
In Canada, as well as the U.K., Australia and New Zealand, Boxing Day is known as a shopping holiday. Newscasts on December 26th are generally about the record-breaking lineups outside stores with slashed prices and discounts so low that many will sacrifice a relaxing holiday morning for the competitive environment of getting to their prized item first in order to walk away with it for less money than what they would pay on any other day of the year.
But before the big sales, and shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, what was this day all about? According to Wikipedia, there are competing theories as to how the name came about, but the one the Oxford Dictionary stands by is rooted in England in the early 1800s when servants, errand boys and postmen would receive a “Christmas box” the day after Christmas as payment for good services rendered throughout the previous year.
While generally considered a secular holiday, there may be a historical non-secular meaning related to the Alms Box placed in areas of worship to collect donations for the poor.
It’s great that workers today are given Boxing Day off — a tip of the hat to the past “Christmas box” charitable appreciation of work well done. But how ironic that alongside this tradition, Boxing Day has also evolved into the biggest temptation across the Commonwealth for emptying one’s bank account.