Originally, Boxing Day – the first weekday after Christmas Day – was observed as a holiday “on which postmen, errand boys, and servants of various kinds received a Christmas box of contributions from those whom they serve”. (Charles Dickens)
Boxing Day gets its name not from the martial art of landing a closed fist on your opponent, but from collection boxes left at churches. In these boxes gifts for the poor and less privileged are dropped and then re-distributed. There is also a tradition, as described above by Dickens, where certain occupations are rewarded with small gifts from their beneficiaries. All of these activities can occur on Boxing Day, which is readily celebrated in Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, Australia, as well as many Eastern European countries. Boxing Day is closely related to the Feast of St. Stephen, which also occurs on December 26. It is believed that the boxing tradition of gift-giving was begun by Christians celebrating the much-revered Jerusalem saint.
Saint Stephen is believed to be the oldest of Christian martyrs. In fact, Stephen was a Jerusalem deacon, who was stoned to death in the year 35 A.D. by a mob that was encouraged by a historical figure named Saul of Tarsus, who would later be known (after his conversion to Christianity) as Paul the Apostle.
The feast of St. Stephen is observed in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and Greek Orthodox churches. It is also mentioned in the popular English Christmas carol, Good King Wenceslaus.
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