Are we sitting comfortably, dear London Perfect readers? I do hope so. It’s the evening of Christmas Day. You’ll have consumed a elephant’s sufficiency of turkey, Christmas Pudding and other indulgences. You’re probably still wearing the paper crown from your cracker at a jaunty angle.
But don’t get too comfortable. Don’t even THINK about having a postprandial snooze amongst the sparkly wrapping paper. Oh no. For tomorrow is Boxing Day and there’s much, much planning still to be done.
So just what exactly is “Boxing Day”? On the 26 December tens of millions of Brits, Irish and a significant smattering of Commonwealth types embrace a well-deserved public holiday. It’s not simply a chance to digest yesterday’s feast but actually encompasses a number of themes; the religious, the historical, the material and the sporty.
For the religiously inclined out there, this is the Feast Day of St Stephen. Stephen was one of the Church’s earliest deacons and Christianity’s first recorded martyrs. Stoned to death for his beliefs he is the patron saint of deacons, horses, coffin makers as well as – now please don’t laugh – stonemasons and headaches.
My, those Early Christians had a dark sense of humour.
Quite how December 26th was renamed Boxing Day in the British context is somewhat shrouded in mystery but could originate from a couple of traditions… ah yes, Tradition. It’s something we Brits are rather good at. Well, we should be after a couple of millennia of history in which to build up a good stash of such stuff.
But back to Boxing Day. It possibly acquired its name from one or both of two practices. The first was that as the monied and aristocratic still needed waiting upon during Christmas Day proper, they would give their servants the day off on December 26… as well as a gift of a Christmas Box. The Anglican Church instigated the second practice, wherein during Advent boxes were set up in churches to receive donations and alms for the poor. These were then distributed to the aforementioned needy on December 26.
Regardless of which source the name came from, “Boxing Day” stuck. If this and other delightfully charming British traditions are what float your boat, I’d suggest a trip to the Geffrye Museum in East London. At the moment they’ve an exhibition entitled Christmas Past. This charts the evolution of Christmas festivities and decorations 1600-2000 in the houses of the English middling sort. Do hurry though; it’s only on until January 6.
For those of us who find that the material accumulation of Christmas just isn’t enough and you want a physical work out to compensate for all that food then GET THEE TO THE BOXING DAY SALES. People will queue for days to be first through the doors of Harrods, Selfridges and Harvey Nichols to bag the final bargain of the year. You’ll need sharp elbows for this as well as a killer instinct and a strong constitution. How else to survive the melee at the start, never mind the Herculean challenge of carrying your spoils back home?
Rural types tend to shun such metropolitan excess on Boxing Day. Their preference is to garb themselves in jodhpurs and smart jackets, get on a horse, gallop about the countryside with a pack of baying hounds at the fore, all chasing a fox. Well, it was foxes until the law banned such … in 2005. Now I believe urban hipsters and conceptual artists are fame game instead.*
It may not be the stealthiest way of hunting but, by Jove, it’s certainly the most glorious.
My personal inclination is to recover from Christmas in the warmth and relative tranquility of the living room. Usually with a good book acquired the day before.
For millions of others however Boxing Day is all about Sport. From what I can gather, as long as there’s a ball about the size of a human head involved, you can probably watch it on the television. From football (soccer to all you American and Commonwealth types) to rugby – Union and League – you’ll get your fix of manly men chasing a bladder of wind about a patch of grass.
*I could be making this up but it makes for quite a dramatic mental image, no?
Zoë F. Willis is a London Perfect reservationist, writer and Londoner. Visit her blog Things Wot I Have Made to find out more about Zoë’s many creative talents!