The United Kingdom

Boxing Day in the United Kingdom

(Figure 1)-Road map from mapmachine.com displaying major cities

 

Abstract

Boxing Day, or St. Stephen's Day as it is called in Ireland, occurs every 26th of December in the United Kingdom.   The celebration is intended to act as a day of rest after Christmas Day- one of the two largest celebrations in the established Church of England, also known as the Episcopalian Church.  Over the years, the celebration has lost much of its popularity, due to the fact that much of its original intention was to serve as a day for laborers and working class citizens such as servants, postmen, and dustmen to be appreciated and celebrated.  Because of the Industrial Revolution and an ever-growing technological economy, many of these jobs have been eliminated.  Also, it is estimated that only 10% of the British population are Church members (Morley, 2001).  However, this celebration still serves as a reflection of British culture and gives insight to the British social structure and way of life of its common peoples.

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Additional Image 1   Additional Image 2

(Figure #2) Britain's culture mixes a rich past with a modern day metropolis mind set. http://www.planetware.ca/national/GB/HOLIDAYS.HTM (Figure #3) On Boxing Day many public and private buildings are closed, such as this bank. www.freefoto.com

Introduction

Although Boxing Day is a national holiday in the United Kingdom, as well as almost all of its former colonies (excluding the United States), it is not quite as popularly received as it once was.  Many businessmen and women return to work the day after Christmas, despite the fact that many government buildings and services are closed (Figure 3).  As simple of a holiday as it is-  Boxing Day, celebrated on Dec. 26th annually, is a reflection of British social structure and its constant change, leisurely and holiday practices, and also its extent to which British culture has spread to other nations-namely through its imperial past.

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Context of The United Kingdom

The United Kingdom consists of four countries currently, which are under at least some sort English control or influence.  They are- England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.  A history of so-called "English" people dates back to around the time of the fall of Rome (somewhere around 600 C.E. ).  It is one of the oldest countries still in existence today.  Located in Western Europe separated from the mainland, it consists of one major island and a small part of the island that makes up Ireland, and also Scotland.    A four season climate is enjoyed by the land, though the United Kingdom is often noted for its fog and wind.  Rolling hills, tectonic features, plenty of precipitation and a temperate climate allow for much green vegetation.

Farming and trade with the nearby mainland were the anchors of survival for several hundred years in the United Kingdom.  Throughout the Middle Ages, Britain grew to be a strong power in Western Europe, imposing a feudal system and a monarchy.  "National consciousness centered on personal allegiance to the king and dynasty carried over into the 19th century (Mosse p.65)."  With stable dynasties for the most part of its history along with the Renaissance, Britiain has advanced technologically even to current times.

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Origins of Boxing Day

While the exact origins are unknown, it is estimated that the holiday began sometime in the 1660's C.E. (Hutton).  Two major theories have been constructed regarding Boxing Day.  The first is that during the holiday's beginnings, servants were required to work for their masters on Christmas Day, and so Boxing Day was created to give servants time to celebrate with their own families, and often the masters would give their servants gift boxes (hence the name of the holiday) to express appreciation for their service throughout the year.  This theory may explain why "Until recently postmen, dustmen, and a few other public servants used to call on Dec. 26th at the houses they served during the year to collect Christmas boxes (Hole p.31-32)."  Another theory is that on the day after Christmas all of the local churches would open their "alms-giving boxes" and distribute the money that had been collected throughout the year to the poor.

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Performance

There are many observable practices both in public and private that help to compose Boxing Day.  By law, in 1871 the Bank Holidays Act declared Boxing Day to be a day of leisure (Hutton, 1996).   Sometimes called the "morrow of Christmas (Hole, 1976)," Boxing Day often consists of family activities for those who choose to participate in the holiday (See figure #4).  Family feasts, sporting events, and kinship are stressed amongst family and neighbors alike.  Hunting, cricket, and soccer matches are amongst the most popular events in Britain.  Extended families often gather to extend their 'communitas' to relatives on this day. "The day trip is likewise the working-class norm (Walton, p.52)."  In major cities, in such places as the Bahamas (usually not the United Kingdom itself), parades and festivities are sometimes held to unite the community (Encyclopedia Brittanica, 2004).  Churches also participate in the holiday-making it a religious experience for some by offering a "St. Stephen's Day breakfast-" traditionally boiled beef and beer (Hole, 1976).    Another popular 'ritual,' at least in the past was for "Wren Boys" to dress in traditional garb and travel around towns playing music and asking for alms (Beaver, 2000).

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Artifact

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  (Figure #4) Early 20th Century children enjoy the day after Christmas, playing with new gifts and spending the day with family.  Beaver, Dec99/Jan2000, Vol. 79 Issue 6, p56, 1p

 

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Interpretation

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Prognosis for Boxing Day

Sadly, Boxing Day is constantly decreasing in popularity.  Much of the reason why it is celebrated is because of national identity and culture, which is slowly becoming lost in this modern age (See Figure #2).  "Western Europe has...started to 'perceive itself'...as a loose, horizontal democratic association (Holmes,Murrray p74, 1999)."  Practicing religion has also declined amongst the British people over the years.  But perhaps the biggest reason why Boxing Day is declining is because of its modern day lack of practicality.  Positions of dustmen, lamplighters, and coal deliverers no longer exist-which was part of the basis for the holiday.  Also, there has been much more of a closing of the 'social gap' amongst classes.  More and more people return to work on this day, not taking time to observe the history behind the celebration.  Granted, some people still celebrate Boxing Day, but as time progresses, it is more and more likely that customs and celebrations will not continue as they once did.

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Conclusion

National identity through religion and a common culture, leisure and ritual, and a broadening of the culture of the United Kingdom are important aspects to consider when analyzing Boxing Day.  Rooted deep in British history, this holiday extends the Christmas holiday for many and celebrates the hard work of public servants.  Once a day of relaxation for all, many opt not to participate in Boxing Day customs such as "St. Stephen's breakfast" or church gatherings in these contemporary times.  However, Boxing Day in the United Kingdom gives historians, anthropologists, and cultures in general a good consensus of the British people's history, structure, and current national holidays. 

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Internet References Cited

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Peer-Reviewed References Cited

  • Morley, David. Robins, Kevin.

  • 2001   British Cultural Studies. Oxford University Press. New York

  • Holmes, Lesley. Philomena Murray.

  • 1999   Citizenship and Identity in Europe. Ashgate Publishing Ltd. Brookfield, Vt.
  • Mosse, George L.
  • 1988   The Culture of Western Europe Third Edition. Westview Press, Inc. Boulder, CO
  • Hutton, Ronald.

  • 1996   The Stations of the Sun. Oxford University Press. New York
  • Walton, John K.

  • 2000   The British Seaside: Holidays and resorts in the twentieth century. Manchester University Press. New York

  • Barker, Martin. Anne Beezer. Baxendale, John.
  • 1992   Reading Into Cultural Studies. Routledge. London, England.
  • Blanning, T.C.W.

  • 2000   The Nineteenth Century: Europe 1789-1914. Oxford University Press. New York

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