A few years ago, my husband and I spent Christmas in Florida. Christmas Day itself was very quiet – there was hardly anyone on the streets – and it was really difficult to get a restaurant meal of any sort, let alone a proper Christmas dinner. We ended up having pancakes in IHOP followed by an early night. Hardly the riotous celebration we had expected in the American fun state!
The next morning, our breakfast waiter put his hands together and said grace for us at our table – another unexpected turn of events. We realised this wasn’t unusual or special for the holiday – it was a daily occurrence in Pensacola. We asked the waiter what Floridians called the day after Christmas Day, and he said, “The day after Christmas Day!” At the mention of Boxing Day, he grinned broadly and asked how this day got its name. When it came down to it, we didn’t have a clue.
We mumbled something about sport, especially boxing, but we didn’t really know the true origins. That got us thinking – and when we arrived home, we had a look around the Internet. Apparently, the Boxing Day tradition started in Britain. St Stephen’s Day, Boxing Day, was the day when the higher classes gave money, food and home goods to their inferiors. However the gifts were distributed, the less fortunate received them in boxes: hence the term ‘boxing’ day.
It seems these acts of beneficence were all to do with maintaining class divisions. Presents were exchanged between equals on Christmas Day, but gifts were bestowed on social inferiors the following day. Trying to give something in return would have been viewed as a presumptuous bid for equality. No wonder few Americans are familiar with Boxing Day – it wouldn’t fit with their view of society!
These days, the giving and receiving of gifts at Christmas, whether on 25th or 26th December, is generally very welcome. Let’s just be grateful when we receive presents and not worry about the social implications of previous centuries!