Boxing Day, a British holiday, and one I always enjoyed in the land of my birth. Here in the USA of
course it is not celebrated and I have always thought made Christmas a very short and perfunctory
affair. Yes, I’m afraid I like my Boxing Day !
The origins of this public holiday are a little vague but you can take your pick from any selection of the following. Some say it dates back to the time of King Wenceslas and the jolly Christmas carol that we associate with his name ………. and if you can’t remember much more than the tune you might
remember the one line that Brenda sings to me when I come in with another basket of logs for the
fire…. “When a poor man came in sight……. gathering winter fuu,u elllll” Well this could be the
case as the 26th of December is St Stephen’s Day which was traditionally the “Feast of Stephen” and
legend has it that King Wenceslas saw this poor man gathering wood in a blizzard and was so
impressed he delivered a bounty of food to the man’s family.
A spot of gathering
Maybe not so easy today
Others may say that when the Catholic Church ruled Europe, before the adulterous Henry VIII formed
his own outfit with his own rules, the entire day was spent going to and from church. Kick off with a
midnight Mass, no sooner back from that then back again for Matins, around 7 a.m., quick spot of
breakfast then back again for the midday service and home for lunch via the ale house and then get
ready for Evensong ! Not much time for anything else as it was “numero uno day” on the religious
calendar. So with a full day of God bothering the 26th was a good time to open joyous presents, or boxes, and enjoy all the food on the Feast of Stephen.
Might as well take your bed….. you will be there all day !
Believer or not, a midnight service on Christmas Eve in a big Cathedral is quite something. The
sounds of the big organ pumping out familiar tunes and the choir singing carols is quite magical and
when the congregation join in, after having had a few hours at the pub, the sound is deafening! When
you leave the service there is definitely a feeling of “goodwill” to all.
Winchester Cathedral “sweet singing in the choir”
……and then the congregation joins in with the booming chorus
These “boxes” were for presents, fuel, food or whatever and was by way of a “bonus” for all the estate workers of the landed gentry. Perhaps no dedicated wrapping paper in those days. Strangely these
traditions still continue today with various service people knocking on your door during Christmas
week with an outstretched hand expecting their Christmas Box. Three that spring to mind are the
Postman, the Paper Boy and the Milkman ? I often thought that perhaps I should go and knock on their
doors and ask for mine after another year defending the UK shoreline and sitting on the end of the
runway on QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) for 24 hours at a time. Woe betide you if you didn’t cough up as
papers would arrive shredded as they came through the letter box, the milk was delivered but
strangely yours had bird shit over the silvertop or had been pecked to death by bluetits and essential
mail you were expecting had mysteriously slipped between the seats in the mail van……. such is life!
It must have been the Bluetits
When I was a kid Christmas day was always spent at Uncle Tom’s for the full blow out meal, the
Queen’s Speech, Christmas tea and cake and all the rest. The following day the ritual was the same
at Auntie Madge’s with another full turkey lunch, pudding, tea and cake, but less presents this time
My favorite, Christmas pudding with lashings of cream, but BEWARE as
its full of tooth busting old silver coins
As I grew older Boxing Day was always a Trial and a good day outside regardless of the weather and
I can never remember any of them ever being cancelled. A great fun event usually in fancy dress and a
lot of Santa hats as we didn’t wear helmets back then…….. and then there was always the local Fox
Hunt, another Boxing Day tradition until the Labour party screwed that up. More often than not after
getting suitably “refreshed” with much from the “Stirrup Cup” they would come crashing through our
trials land with dogs howling and horns blowing…… quite a sight.
A Boxing Day trial in fancy dress, anything from Santa outfits to drag and
Granny’s old girdle !
Fancy dress, tutus optional
As they used to say “my Granny could have done better”
The Boxing Day Hunt meets at the local for the sipping of the Stirrup Cup
prior to the Orr’ FF, yes that’s pronounced “Orr’ FF”
The Hunt arrives on our land and its complete mayhem
Ribbons and cards everywhere, section 6 is wrecked
After retiring from trials Boxing Day was always a Shoot day either with my local syndicate or a 200
mile drive cross country to a farmer’s do up in Lincolnshire. No matter where it was it was always me
making sandwiches for Edward and myself (turkey of course) at some ungodly hour, pouring coffee
into the thermos and cutting big chunks of Christmas cake for the shoot lunch in the barn. As I
seemed to be the only person who actually liked Christmas cake it would often last into February
before it was laid to rest as true rigamortis had set in.
A good chunk of Christmas cake for me
A Boxing Day shoot with Edward and hangover
My mother and aunts were all experts at making the cake and would start work on these monsters
some time in September and when it was deemed “mature” enough it would then take on its first coat
of marzipan sometime in early December. Now I never really liked the taste of marzipan but it was part
of the cake and was essential to keep all the alcohol in and the cake moist. When the big day came
for the official icing the virgin cake would appear from the antique tin and greaseproof paper and
lovingly be coated with up to 1/2 inch of the pure white stuff. As the icing set another set of “special” ornaments appeared and were suitably plonked into the setting snow scenes. God help you if any of
these went missing !
Don’t you dare lose those ornaments !
So with either a trial or a shoot or two the time from Christmas through New Year became one very
long holiday especially when New Year’s Day also eventually became a public holiday a few years ago.
It never was, but was forced on the country as so many revelers failed to show up for work that the
country ground to a halt through absenteeism. Now add the fact that like this year with Christmas Day
on a Saturday, and Boxing Day on a Sunday, both of these days are public holidays and are pushed to Monday and Tuesday as two more days off work for the masses.
Coming to America and having my first Christmas was a bit of a rude shock having to be up bright and
early on the 26th and I was even more amazed to find Christmas trees already in my trash bins when I owned the Trash & Grading company!
26th December and a tree in my bin! Hardly construction debris
I always keep the lights and decorations up until Twelth Night but up here in the mountains they leave
all the lights up until the end of January to give the skiers a true taste of a White Christmas.
Just for the tourists
Long live traditions!