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History of Boxing Day: Feast of St. Stephen?


Boxing Day is a holiday unfamiliar to many Americans, but it it well known among the countries of the British Commonwealth. It is celebrated on December 26 as a public holiday in the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand… as well as some parts of Europe and Africa.

While some believe it has to do with the need to dispose of empty boxes on the day following Christmas, it has nothing to do with that, nor has it anything to do with pugilistic fisticuffs.

In Britain, Boxing Day is also known by the name St. Stephen’s Day. Stephen, a man “possessing great wisdom and full of the Spirit,” was the first Christian martyr as recorded in Chapter 7 of the book of Acts of The Apostles in the Bible. He was one of the first deacons or ministers of the early church, serving table to the Hellenistic (non-Jewish) members of the church who were being neglected. Boxing Day is the day when gifts were given to the lower classes. Good King Wenceslas gave gifts to a poor man on “the Feast of Stephen.”

The folk history around this holiday tell how boxes of food or fruit were given by the more materially blessed to servants the day after Christmas. The Lord of the Manor might present various goods or cash in boxes to members of the extended household. Alternately, alms boxes in some churches were opened during this season following Christmas Day.

In some countries of the British Commonwealth in modern times Boxing Day is known as a day of shopping sales in stores, or of sporting championship events.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

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