Boxing Day

Hello everyone! I hope you all had lovely Christmases and New Years, et cetera. I’ll tell you about mine soon, I promise. It’s just that, um, I’m a little busy right now. Um. Eating an entire chocolate orange cake to myself. Um. So my guest blogger is taking over today cause I’m, um, busy. Yeh.

 

BOXING DAY

Ok I know it’s New Year but after my last post about Christmas Eve & Christmas Day I thought it might be good to finish off that bit of the holidays with something about Boxing Day. Don’t know about you but when I was younger I just thought it meant a time when the sport of boxing had a special day. I had no ideas of the real origin or meaning.

It’s been a public holiday in England, Wales, Ireland (also called Wren Day because people used to hunt a wren, kill it and mount it on a pole and parade it through the town – a fake one is used today) & Canada since 1871. Some countries refer to it as Second Christmas Day: Germany, Poland, Netherlands, Scandinavia. South Africa renamed it as Day of Goodwill in 1994.

First off Dec 26th is St. Stephen’s Day. The Stephen in question being the the one who became the first Christian martyr. The Bible (in the book of Acts) describes him as “full of faith and power” and also that he did “great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). He was falsely accused by his enemies who brought false witnesses to the trial; exactly the same scenario as when Jesus himself had been brought to trial. In both cases their enemies could not dispute the facts of what these two men had actually done, as there were plenty of witnesses, so they had to resort to falsity to get rid of them. There is perhaps a slight echo of this type of behaviour in today’s world of politics isn’t there? In the run up to an election, be it president or prime minister teams of people will try to dig up “some dirt”, real or implied, on other candidates to gain an advantage. Some things never change, eh?

Anyway at some point in history the church decided it would allocate Dec 26th to Stephen. It used to be customary to “bleed” horses after a long fast gallop (on St Stephen’s Day) in order to protect them against disease in the coming year.

Apparently, in the parish of Drayton Beauchamp, a tradition called “stephening” existed: local people would go to the rectory and demand as much free bread, cheese and ale as they could consume. I’m not sure how the rector was supposed to deal with this in what could have been a very costly exercise. I couldn’t resist a quick look in my Dictionary of British Place Names; remember the post from 2.1.13 on toponymy. It tells me that the origin of name of the village comes from the two parts that make it up: the Drayton bit means farmstead at or near a slope for dragging down loads or farmstead where drays or sledges are used; the Beauchamp bit comes from a family who probably owned the land in the area. Drayton appears in the Domesday Book (1086AD) as Draitone with the Beauchamp bit added, as Belcamp, in 1239. Other Draytons are available: Norfolk, Oxford (near Banbury) & Oxford (near Didcot). The last of these goes back to 958AD appearing in the records as Draitune.

Well although it’s not 100% certain, it is widely believed that the Boxing Day name comes from an old tradition in which the upper classes in the UK would give gifts: firstly to their servants (who had no doubt had to work on Christmas Day giving their master & his family their special dinner) & secondly to tradespeople who had given good and reliable service during the year. The gift would usually be in the form of money. The churches would also distribute gifts to the poor on this day. The gifts were referred to as Christmas boxes and I remember my folks talking about giving the postman, binman or window cleaner his Christmas box but as a child didn’t realise it was related to the name of the 26th Dec – Boxing Day.

Interestingly one book published in 1864 lamented the use of this day for giving gifts:

“This most objectionable usage is now greatly diminished, but certainly cannot yet said to be extinct. Christmas boxes are still regularly expected by the postman, the lamplighter, the dustman and by all those functionaries who render services to the public at large……..” (Chambers Book of Days, 1864)

Remember the opening lines of that famous poem by John Mason Neale in 1853:

Good King Wenceslas looked out

On the feast of Stephen…..

 

I wonder if you’ve ever read the whole thing. I certainly can’t ever remember going right through to the end but it’s worth a go. Try reading it all and see the conversation between the monarch and his page as they see that poor man “gathering winter fuel”.

 

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about,
Deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shown the moon that night,
Though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight,
Gathering winter fuel.

Hither, page, and stand by me.
If thou know it telling:
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling? 
Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes fountain.

Bring me flesh, and bring me wine.
Bring me pine logs hither.
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear the thither. 
Page and monarch, forth they went,
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather.

Sire, the night is darker now,
And the wind blows stronger.
Fails my heart, I know not how.
I can go no longer. 
Ark my footsteps my good page,
Tread thou in them boldly:
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.

In his master’s step he trod,
Where the snow lay dented.
Heat was in the very sod
Which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.

 

Now just have another look at the last four lines of that last verse. There’s the link to the giving of gifts to the poor “on the feast of Stephen” (Dec 26th as we now know).

 

And some notable events which occurred on this day in history:

 

1833 – The premiere of the opera Lucretia Borgia was performed at La Scala in Milan. Gaetano Donizetti was a successful composer writing around 70 operas but tragedy struck towards the end of this life: his wife had given birth to three children all of whom died; within a year of both his parents dying his wife also died; 6 years after that he was getting sick and two years after that, in 1845, he was institutionalised. He died in 1848 in the “grip of insanity”.

 

1898 – Pierre & Marie Curie announce their discovery of radium (atomic symbol 88, symbol Ra)

 

2003 – Just 10 years ago an earthquake in the Iranian city of Bam killed 4,000 people.

 

And there you go, just a few bits about that day after Christmas Day.

 

Happy New Year to everyone.   

 

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