Some people think that because Boxing Day is the day after Christmas, it must be the day all the boxes that presents came in are thrown away. Actually, the origins of this holiday go back many centuries to where, traditionally, on the day after Christmas, churches would open their alms’ boxes and distribute the contents to the poor of their parish.
In the nineteenth century, Queen Victoria made Boxing Day a formal holiday for all countries of the empire. It was the day when the maids, drivers, cooks etc. were given the day off, with small gifts, often in boxes, given as a token of appreciation by their masters.
Most countries outside the Commonwealth do not celebrate Boxing Day, but in America, during the slave times, the masters would often give their slaves the day off after Christmas.
In Australia, Boxing Day is the second day in a row marked by food, although they are usually leftovers from Christmas Day that have been reinvented into turkey salad, stir-fried turkey, ham terrine, turkey sandwiches, bubble and squeak, and for dessert, trifle.
Sport features highly on this public holiday. Since 1945, the over 1000km Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race has started each Boxing Day at noon in Sydney and has become one of the toughest yacht races ever with competitors bringing their yachts from around the globe to attempt to win.
And, since 1950, the Boxing Day Test Match begins its five-day run on the 26th. For the die-hard cricket spectators – up to 160,000 in seats at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) or the millions on their couch or around the BBQ at home – there’s nothing quite like the crack of the ball against the willow, the roar of the crowd or the sound of a cold can of drink cracking open.
There’s one other major event that hits most Australian cities and large towns on Boxing Day. Although it is a public holiday, the Boxing Day Sales have become a sporting event in themselves, with crowds of shoppers queuing for shop doors to open and to get that ‘special deal’. For many it’s not even about the purchasing, but about the adrenaline of the fight for the bargain.
Christmas and Boxing Day always fall together and if one or both of these days occur on a weekend, the days are ‘made up’ by more public holidays being declared for the weekdays following, so sometimes there can be up to a four-day break for most Australians.