Christmas Day in Australia just wouldn’t be the same without the following day being the national public holiday the following day known as Boxing Day. There are a lot of traditions for December 26th in Australia including the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race as well as the Boxing Day cricket match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground which we will get into more depth below. But first, how did Boxing Day become a thing?
THE ORIGIN OF BOXING DAY
The exact origin of the word is down to two theories, but it’s unknown which is correct. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest start of Boxing Day came from Britain in the 1830s. Back then it was “the first week-day after Christmas-day, observed as a holiday on which post-men, errand-boys, and servants of various kinds expect to receive a Christmas-box”.
The term “Christmas-box” dates back even further into 17th century Britain with presents or gratuities given at Christmas: in Great Britain, as it was a custom for tradesmen to collect “Christmas boxes” of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as a thanks for their good service throughout the year. This is mentioned in a member of parliament named Samuel Pepys’ diary entry for 19 December 1663. As many workers would would have to wait or serve for their masters on Christmas Day, the servants of wealthy families were allowed the next day to visit their families. Many employers would their servants a box each to take home which contained gifts, bonuses, and at times leftover food.
BOXING DAY TRADITIONS OUTSIDE GREAT BRITAIN
In South Africa (who are a former British Commonwealth nation) even as recently as the 1980s would have their milkmen, garbage collectors knock on their doors asking for a “Christmas box” which usually would contain cash. Though this could have been days before or after Christmas and not necessarily on December 26.
Other parks of Europe also have Boxing Day traditions including giving money and some gifts to the needy or those in service positions. This believed to have started as far back as the Middle Ages, though the exact beginning of the tradition is unknown. Boxing Day as a name for them is believed to be in reference to the Alms Box placed at churches and other places of worship. Ancient Romans would also place metal boxes outside churches were used to collect special offerings which would link to the Feast of Saint Stephen, which in the Western Church falls on the same day as Boxing Day.
In Scotland, Boxing Day is one of only four nationally recognised bank holidays (along with Christmas Day, New Years Day and Labour Day in May) and has been since 1974, by Royal Proclamation under the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971. Unlike the rest of United Kingdom, most bank holidays are not recognised as statutory public holidays in Scotland, as public holidays are determined by local authorities across Scotland. Though some of these may be taken in lieu of nationally recognised holidays.
Ireland under the Bank Holidays Act 1871 established the feast day of Saint Stephen when it was still part of Great Britain and has been a non-movable public holiday on 26 December ever since. After the partition in 1920, Northern Ireland changed theirs to the British name, Boxing Day.
Hong Kong as a sovereignty was given from the UK to China in 1997, but still today Boxing Day continues to be a public holiday with government offices, banks, post offices and most offices closed on Boxing Day including the weekday following if it falls on a weekend.
In Australia, Boxing Day is a federal public holiday though the state of South Australia knows this day as Proclamation Day on the first weekday after Christmas Day to commemorate becoming a recognised state .
In New Zealand, Boxing Day is a statutory holiday which means 1.5x salary and a lieu day is provided to employees who work on that day.
Canada too has Boxing Day as a federal statutory holiday with government offices, banks and post offices/delivery all closed. Some Canadian provinces, Boxing Day is always celebrated on 26 December while provinces has a compensation day in the following week if December 26 lands on a weekend.
Other countries that has Boxing Day as a public holiday on December 26 is Nigeria, Trinidad and Tobago while the British overseas territory of Bermuda has costumed Gombey dancers perform on Boxing Day as a tradition believed to date back to the 18th century when slaves were allowed to gather at Christmas time.
Feast of Saint Stephen on December 26
Saint Stephen’s Day (also know as the Feast of Saint Stephen) is a Christian saint’s day to commemorate Saint Stephen who was believed to be the first Christian martyr or protomartyr.
It’s celebrated on 26 December in the Latin Church and 27 December in Eastern Christianity (the Eastern Orthodox Church adheres to the Julian calendar and mark Saint Stephen’s Day on 27 December according to that calendar, which places it on 9 January of the Gregorian calendar used in secular contexts. In Latin Christian denominations, Saint Stephen’s Day marks the second day of Christmastide.
Countries that have an official public holiday for Saint Stephens Day:
- The Balearic Islands
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Czech Republic
- the Republic of Ireland
AUSTRALIAN BOXING DAY TRADITIONS
Boxing Day Test Cricket Match
Boxing Day cricket at the MCG goes all the way back to 1892 when the Melbourne ground hosted a Sheffield Shield match between Victoria and New South Wales.
International matches on Boxing Day started with the Test at the MCG in 1950, although that match against England actually started on December 22. From that time, Tests were held on Boxing Day at the MCG before 1980 were only in 1952, 1968, 1974 and 1975 (Adelaide hosted it in 1967, 1972 and 1976).
When late Australian billionaire Kerry Packer’s Channel Nine network got the broadcast rights to cricket in Australia in 1979, he made the Boxing Day test match a true tradition. In 2013 the MCG saw its biggest ever Test attendance with 91,112 people to that Ashes (Australia v England) match.
Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race
The Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race is an annual event on Boxing Day (December 26) which is hosted by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia.
The yachts start in the harbour of Sydney, New South Wales and sail out of the heads and south along the east coast of Australia and across the Bass Strait to Hobart, Tasmania. The distance between the start and finish lines is approximately 630 nautical miles (1,170 km).
The inaugural Sydney to Hobart Yacht Racewas in 1945 hasbecome one of the top three biggest offshore yacht races in the world with maxi yachts from all around the globe competing.
The first ever race had nine starters andJohn Illingworth’s Rani, built in Speers Point, New South Wales was the winner. It took six days, 14 hours and 22 minutes. Things have gotten a lot more sophisticated (and expensive!) over the years. In 2005 the yacht Wild Oats XI won line and handicap honours finishing the race in just 1 day 18 hr 40 min 10 sec.
WHERE TO SPEND BOXING DAY IN SYDNEY
If you’re looking for a great place for a meal in Sydney on Boxing Day (or any day for that matter!), look no further than Lantern Club’s MàZi restaurant. With a Mediterranean inspired menu featuring amazing dishes, including pizzas made from scratch and cooked in our genuine woodfired over, there is a dish for every one.
To book a table, call 8037 8200 or click here.