The Feast of St. Stephen or Boxing Day

>> Sunday, December 26, 2010

Boxing Day is a bank or public holiday that occurs on 26 December, or 27 December, and is observed in Australia, Austria, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and in some Commonwealth nations that have a mainly Christian population. In South Africa, the public holiday 26 December is called Day of Goodwill, in Ireland St Stephen's Day or Lá an Dreoilín, and in continental European countries the "Second Christmas Day."

Though not an official holiday in the United States, some Americans use the term "Boxing Day," particularly those who live near the Canada – United States border. In Canada, Boxing Day is listed in the Canada Labour Code as an optional holiday. Only the province of Ontario has made it a statutory holiday where all workers receive time off with pay.

The exact etymology of the term "boxing" is unclear and there are several competing theories, none definitive. The tradition has long included giving money and other gifts to the needy and those in service positions. The European tradition dates to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown. Some claim it dates to the late Roman/early Christian era when metal boxes placed outside churches collected special offerings tied to the Feast of Saint Stephen.

A clue to Boxing Day's origins appears in the Christmas Carol, "Good King Wenceslas." Wenceslas, who was Duke of Bohemia in the early 10th century, was surveying his land on St. Stephen's Day — Dec. 26 — when he saw a poor man gathering wood in the middle of a snowstorm. Moved, the King gathered up surplus food and wine and carried them through the blizzard to the peasant's door. The alms-giving tradition has always been closely associated with the Christmas season, but King Wenceslas' good deed came the day after Christmas, when the English poor received most of their charity.

In the United Kingdom, it is a custom for tradesmen to collect "Christmas boxes" of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year. This is mentioned in Samuel Pepys' diary entry for 19th December 1663; and widely in Victorian literature. Another possibility is that the name derives from an old English tradition: in exchange for ensuring that wealthy landowners' Christmases ran smoothly, servants were allowed to take the 26th off to visit their families. The employers gave each servant a box containing gifts and bonuses (and sometimes leftover food). In addition, around the 1800s, churches opened their alms boxes (boxes where people place monetary donations) and distributed the contents to the poor. --Wikipedia


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