A national holiday in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and other Commonwealth countries, Boxing Day, traditionally celebrated on 26 December, is also known as St. Stephen's Day, a religious holiday mainly in Ireland.
This got me wondering why the day is so-named. Here are some of the suggestions:
1) Some say the tradition stems from Roman times when money to pay for athletic games was collected in boxes. Amongst the ruins of Pompeii, boxes have been found made out of earthenware with slits in the top full of coins. Later the Romans brought the idea of collecting boxes to Britain, and monks and clergy soon used similar boxes to collect money for the poor at Christmas.
2) A ‘Christmas Box’ in Britain is a name for a Christmas present.
Originating in England in the middle of the nineteenth century under Queen Victoria, Boxing Day was rest day for servants and when they received a ‘Christmas Box’ from the master. The servants could also go home to give ‘Christmas Boxes’ to their families if they were close enough to reach by horse transport.
4) Great sailing ships when leaving port would have a sealed box containing money on board for good luck. If the voyage was successful the box was given to a priest, opened at Christmas and the contents distributed to the needy.
In Ireland, Boxing Day is known as 'St Stephen's Day'. Hence, the carol beginning with the words: 'Good King Wenceslas Looked Out On The Feast Of Stephen'. Lyrics here.
The message contained in the song tells about the virtue of giving to the poor. I love the line: 'In his master's steps he trod, where the snow lay dented.'
Um—a bit gruesome and hardly good news for all the poor innocent wrens in the area. Anyway, who would want a feather?
Some of the old traditions have no use in modern times, but it's interesting to find out the origins.