Boxing Day is a Christmas season custom originating in Britain, and persisting in former British colonial dominions, with the earliest known reference coming in 1833. There are two main theories to explain this observance.
One idea is that December 26 was the day centuries ago when lords of the manor and aristocrats typically distributed “Christmas boxes” often filled with small gifts, money and leftovers from Christmas dinner to their household servants and employees, who were required to work on December 25, in recognition of good service throughout the year. These boxes were, in essence, holiday bonuses. Another popular theory is that the Boxing Day moniker arose from the alms boxes that were placed in churches during the Advent season for the collection of monetary donations from parishioners. Clergy members distributed the contents of the boxes to the poor on December 26, which is also the feast of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr and a figure known for acts of charity. (Ireland celebrates December 26 as St. Stephen’s Day.)
There’s also a Druid’s explanation for the Boxing Day phenomenon.
Boxing Day is, in reality an ancient Pagan festival celebrated right across Europe to honour the Great Mother. The box is a later misinterpretation of the womb, which the original containers can be seen to resemble. Or they would be seen to resemble if we had any, which we don’t, but as soon as one shows up it will of course be blindingly obvious.
In the modern era Boxing Day has become an extra day off for the holiday, and another opportunity to eat, drink, watch sports and take advantage of post-Christmas retail sales.
Boxing Day in the United States seems to be associated in the main with Ireland, perhaps because immigration patterns subsequent to our 18th-century separation from the British royal family overwhelmingly reflected the Irish diaspora.
But, it’s complicated.
The northern Irish counties in Ulster have a high percentage of Protestants compared with the remainder of Ireland, and Ulster remains wedded to the United Kingdom (where December 26 is celebrated as Boxing Day). As noted above, Catholics in the Republic of Ireland regard the 26th as St. Stephen’s Day (or “Wren Day”) — although, of course, there are Catholics aplenty in Northern Ireland, too.
As a result, I feel there’s a strong case to be made for an ecumenical American understanding of Boxing Day, in which we all agree to eat, drink and be merry on the day after Christmas, whatever it may be called elsewhere, if at all.
Why not take an extra day for frivolity (and calories) before returning to work?
Consequently here in The ‘Ville, The Irish Rover (2319 Frankfort Avenue) began celebrating Boxing Day more than two decades ago with a traditional Irish breakfast, adult libations and music. In 2021 the pub decided to forego Boxing Day service owing to COVID safety considerations (of which the owners were among the metro area’s most consistently principled), and the same held true in 2022.
In 2023 the Rover put considerable effort into its 30th birthday party earlier this month, concluding that one special occasion was enough for the year-end holiday season. Consequently, the hallowed tradition of Boxing Day is now slated to return in 2024. There’s nothing quite like the way The Rover does it, and I’m looking forward to the restoration.
Googling “Boxing Day” in Louisville requires adaptive and improvisational internet skills, as the clueless algorithm insists on directing one to all things Muhammad Ali and UFC pay-per-views. But it can be said with certainty that in the Rover’s absence this year, there’ll be a specific Boxing Day-themed program at Pints&union in New Albany (114 E. Market), with menu by Chef Troy Stewart.*
The text (lightly edited):
Boxing Day is almost here!
- Menu is available 12-4pm.
- Bar and snacks open 4-8pm.
- Joe will be opening and pouring the St. Bernardus ABT 12 Magnums! $10 a pour until gone! We will pour a magnum an hour as follows: 4pm 5pm 6pm.
Will be a relaxing day filled with an epic program to welcome in the New Year.
In truth, Boxing Day can be anywhere on the 26th, as long as you’re there and they’re open for business, but if any other establishments are promoting Boxing Day in 2023, I couldn’t determine it without taking a machete to the social media thicket. If you spot another, let me know and I’ll amend this post.
Cover photo: Boxing Day at the 4077th M*A*S*H; episode #223, 28 December 1981.
* Allow me to note for the record that I am now a former employee of Pints&union, and as such, need not make the customary “full disclosure” addendum.