Boxing Day is celebrated on December 26 and is only celebrated in some countries; Mainly those connected historically to the United Kingdom (like Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand) and in some European countries.
In Germany it is known as “Zweite Feiertag” (meaning “second celebration”) and also “Zweiter Weihnachtsfeiertag”, which translates as Boxing Day (although that does not mean literally).
It began in the United Kingdom about 800 years ago, during the Middle Ages. It was the day when the box of alms, collection boxes for the poor that were often kept in the churches, were traditionally opened so that the contents were distributed among the poor. Some churches still open these boxes on Boxing Day.
It could have been the Romans who first brought this type of collection boxes to the United Kingdom, but they used them to raise money for the gambling games they played during their winter celebrations!
In the Netherlands, some collection boxes were made of a rough pottery called “earthenware” and were shaped like pigs. Maybe this is where we get the term ‘Piggy Bank’!
It was also traditional for the servants to have the day off to celebrate Christmas with their families on Boxing Day. Before the Second World War, it was common for hard-working people (such as dairymen and butchers) to travel to their places of delivery and pick up their Christmas box or tip. This tradition has now largely stopped, and Christmas tips, given to people like postal workers and children who send newspapers, are usually not delivered or picked up on Boxing Day.
Boxing Day has become another holiday in countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It is also the traditional day that Pantomimes began to play.
Sports are also often practiced on Boxing Day in the UK, especially horse races and football matches! It is also when stores traditionally had great sales after Christmas in the United Kingdom (such as Black Friday in the United States).
December 26 is also the day of San Esteban. Just to confuse things, there are two St. Stephens in history! It is believed that the first Saint Stephen was one of the first followers of Jesus and is said to have been the first Christian martyr (a person who dies for his religious beliefs). The Bible says that Stephen (who was a Jew) was stoned by other Jews (who did not believe in Jesus).
The second Saint Stephen was a missionary, in Sweden, in the 800s. He loved all animals, but particularly horses (perhaps that’s why traditionally there are horse races on the day of boxing). He was also a martyr and was killed by pagans in Sweden. In Germany there was a tradition that horses walked around the interior of the church during the service of St. Stephen’s Day!
The day of San Esteban (or “the party of Esteban”) is when the carol “Good King Wenceslao” is established. It’s about helping the poor, so it has a strong connection to Boxing Day.