Not unless they’re packaged in gift wrap, and presented with a winning smile.

And no referee, either.

It’s Boxing Day.

Boxing Day. Wha–??

Boxing Day is a public or bank holiday that happens on December 26, or the first or second weekday after Christmas Day – depending on national or regional laws. It is observed in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and several of the Commonwealth nations.

In the Netherlands, Lithuania, Austria, Germany, Scandinavia, and Poland, December 26 is observed as the Second Christmas Day. In South Africa, Boxing Day was renamed as the Day of Goodwill, in 1994.

The holiday is celebrated in the Republic of Ireland (Eire) as St. Stephen’s Day, or the Day of the Wren (La an Dreoilin).

You’ve heard the line from that Christmas carol: “Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen?”

This is the day, in question. It commemorates Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr – who was killed for adhering to his religious beliefs. It is an official public holiday in Austria, the Balearic Islands, Catalonia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Montenegro, Norway, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Sweden, and Poland.

Elsewhere, why is December 26 called Boxing Day?

Because, traditionally, this was the day to open the Christmas Box, and to share its contents with the poor.

Gifts, In A Box

From the late Roman / early Christian times, there are records of a tradition where metal boxes placed outside churches were used to collect special offerings, tied to the Feast of Saint Stephen.

During the Age of Exploration – when ships set sail across the globe, to discover new lands – a Christmas Box was used as a good luck device. The box was a small clay or wooden container placed on each ship, while it was in port. Mind you, ‘box’ is a relative term, here. Those made from clay were often in the form of a hollow ball or gourd, with a slit cut into the top.

The Christmas Box was put in place and blessed by a priest. Those sailors who wanted to ensure a safe passage would drop money into the box. It was then sealed, and kept on board for the entire voyage.

If the crew returned safely, the box was handed over to the priest, in exchange for the saying of a Mass of thanks, for the success of the journey. The priest would keep the box sealed until Christmas, when it would be opened, and its contents given to the poor.

Even in non-seafaring regions, an Alms Box was placed in every church, on Christmas day. Worshippers would place in it gifts for the poor of the parish. The boxes were always opened on the day after Christmas.

In farming and industry, many poorly paid workers were required to work on Christmas Day, and allowed the following day off, to visit their families. As they prepared to leave, their employers would present them with Christmas Boxes.

During the late 18th century, wealthy landowners would “box up” their leftover food, together with occasional gifts, and distribute them to tenants who lived and worked on their lands, the day after Christmas.

Even today, it remains customary for householders to give small gifts or monetary tips to regular visiting tradespeople (such as mail carriers, or refuse collectors). In many work places, employees are given a Christmas bonus.

Which they often need, at this time, because…

Boxes, Bags, Shoes, Toys, Games…

In Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and some states of Australia, Boxing Day is a shopping holiday – much like the day after Thanksgiving, in the United States.

WIth huge bargains, special offers, and retailers looking to offload their end-of-season stock, it is not unusual to see masses of would-be shoppers camped outside department stores, overnight. And huge, jostling crowds inside the building, once the doors are opened.

Because of this, many retailers have adopted special safety procedures, to manage the large numbers. They may limit the accessible entrances, restrict the number of patrons allowed in at one time, or provide incentives to shop and go – such as giving tickets for “hot” items, to people at the front of the line.

The online version of this sales bonanza – known as Cyber Boxing Day – is just as busy. So, expect some slower-than-usual service, at a Shopping Cart, near you.

And Stuff On The Box

And on the terraces. Or at your local stadium.

In England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, it is a Boxing Day tradition for the Premier League (EPL), Scottish Premier League, and Irish Premier League (plus the lower divisions, and the Rugby Football leagues) to hold a full program of sporting fixtures. With much television coverage, of course.

Games on Boxing Day were traditionally played between teams of local rivals (known as derby matches), to avoid the teams and their fans having to travel long distances, on the day after Christmas.

In horse racing, there is the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park Racecourse in Surrey. This is England’s second most prestigious chase, after the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Australia hosts the first day of the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.

In North America, the National Hockey League (NHL) has close to a full schedule of games, after the break for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

In some African Commonwealth nations – notably Ghana, Uganda, Malawi, Zambia, and Tanzania – prize-fighting contests are held. This practice is also followed in Guyana and Italy.

Actual boxing. Wow.

I’m going to get my skates (not my gloves) on, now. Because it’s time to go.

See you, for the final.

Peace.

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