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Why is it called Boxing Day?



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Why is it called Boxing Day?

Post by Kitkat on Sun 27 Dec 2015 - 10:17

My mother didn't like us referring to 26th December as Boxing Day.  "That's just what the English call it" ... 

While no one seems to know for sure how it came to be called Boxing Day, it definitely has nothing to do with the sport of boxing. Perhaps the most widely held understanding of its origins comes from the tradition of wealthier members of society giving servants and tradesmen a so-called "Christmas Box" containing money and gifts on the day after Christmas. It was seen as a reward for a year's worth of service. Other believe it comes from the post-Christmas custom of churches placing boxes outside their doors to collect money for distribution to less-fortunate members of society in need of Christmas cheer. Some trace it to Britain's proud naval tradition and the days when a sealed box of money was kept on board for lengthy voyages and then given to a priest for distribution to the poor if the voyage was successful. There are other explanations, but it's clear the designation has nothing to do with the modern habit of using the holiday for shopping at "big box" stores selling televisions, computers and the like.

No one knows for sure when Boxing Day started, but some believe it was centuries ago, when servants would be given the day after Christmas off as a day of rest after feverish preparations for their masters' celebrations. Others trace it back even earlier, to the Roman practice of collecting money in boxes — they say Roman invaders brought this practice to Britain, where it was taken up by the clergy to collect money in boxes for the disadvantaged. The tradition gained popularity during the Victorian era and has flourished to this day. The British Empire may now be a thing of the past, but Boxing Day is still celebrated in some other parts of the Commonwealth, including Canada, Australia and Kenya. In Canada, some say Boxing Day is losing out to the U.S. import of Black Friday, the day after U.S. Thanksgiving in November, but a representative from Best Buy in Canada says Dec. 26 remains its biggest shopping day of the year.

Boxing Day has evolved into a day of relaxation and indulgence — and shopping. It is filled with sporting events (including a marathon soccer schedule tailor-made for TV viewing from a comfortable couch) and it is often a day when people open their homes to family and friends who drop by for turkey, ham, and perhaps half-consumed bottles of wine left over from Christmas dinner. In Britain it used to be a day for fox hunting in the frost-tinged countryside, but that practice has been mostly banned for more than a decade now. In its place, "Boxing Day Sales" have flourished, with many Britons lifted from their post-Christmas torpor by the lure of low prices in department stores. The Metro newspaper sums it up this way: "Boxing Day: a time for napping, playing with all the toys you got your hands on at Christmas, and stubbornly refusing to change out of your pajamas unless there's a major sale involved." It claims Boxing Day is better than Christmas Day because it's socially acceptable to go to the pub with friends instead of staying at home with family.

St. Stephen's Day in Ireland
St. Stephen's Day (Lá Fhéile Stiofáin), or the Day of the Wren (Lá an Dreoilín), is an occasion to commemorate the life of St Stephen, a Christian martyr. Many people spend the day quietly with close friends or family. 
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The Day of The Wren: 

Celtic myth had it that the robin that was suppose to represent the New Year killed the wren which represented the Old Year during this time. Wren Boys blacken their faces and go from house to house asking for money to bury the wren. The money they collect is used to buy food and drink for the "wren dance" held on this night.

St. Stephen's Day honors the first Christian martyr, stoned to death shortly after the Crucifixion.
St. Stephen's Day is a national holiday in Ireland, but, the celebrations have little connection to the Saint.

In Ireland, St. Stephen's Day is the day for "Hunting the Wren" or "Going on the Wren." Originally, groups of small boys would hunt for a wren, and then chase the bird until they either have caught it or it has died from exhaustion. The dead bird was tied to the top of a pole or holly bush, which was decorated with ribbons or colored paper.

Early in the morning of St. Stephen's Day, the wren was carried from house to house by the boys, who wore straw masks or blackened their faces with burnt cork, and dressed in old clothes. At each house, the boys sing the Wren Boys' song. Such as:

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
On St. Stephen's Day was caught in the furze,
Although he is little, his family is great,
I pray you, good landlady, give us a treat.

My box would speak, if it had but a tongue,
And two or three shillings, would do it not wrong,
Sing holly, sing ivy--sing ivy, sing holly,
A drop just to drink, it would drown melancholy.

And if you draw it of the best,
I hope in heaven your soul will rest;
But if you draw it of the small,
It won't agree with these wren boys at all.

Sometimes those who gave money were given a feather from the wren for good luck. The money collected by the Wren Boys was used to hold a dance for the whole village.

There are different legends about the origin of this custom. One is that St. Stephen, hiding from his enemies in a bush, was betrayed by a chattering wren. The wren, like St. Stephen, should be hunted down and stoned to death. Another legend holds that during the Viking raids of the 700's, Irish soldiers were betrayed by a wren as they were sneaking up on a Viking camp in the dead of night. A wren began to eat breadcrumbs left on the head of a drum, and the rat-a-tat-tat of its beak woke the drummer, who sounded the alarm and woke the camp, leading to the defeat of the Irish soldiers and the continuing persecution of the wren.



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Re: Why is it called Boxing Day?

Post by Kitkat on Sun 27 Dec 2015 - 18:45

We never had it round our way (Co. Wicklow) though it was always a tradition to go to a dance on St Stephen's Day - but I do remember my Dad (who came from Co. Monaghan) talking about the Wren Boys (I always thought he was saying Rand Boys) who would dress up and go round from house to house, the day after Christmas.  They would sing songs and collect money in a box on the rounds and everyone went dancing on St Stephen's Day night.  It's a tradition that they keep to this day around those parts of Ireland - and other parts too.

Sligo (for instance):

I remember my Dad talking about the "Straw Boys" (another name for the "Rand Boys") also .... apparently another name for the 'Mummers', as shown in this clip:

From the Irish Independent:  

'When wren-boys were low life'

SOME of Joe Kennedy's loyal readers have asked for a reprise of a column on Wren Boys which appeared last year. It featured snatches of folk verse, now almost forgotten, and seasonal scenes of the Irish countryside in times past.

IN THE window display of an antiquarian bookshop there was a framed set of verses, with a snatch of staff notation, set under a Jack Yeats woodcut of a snow street scene of four youths singing with a heading, The Wren Boys and, at the bottom, Ballad Sheet No 4.

These particular wren-boys look idealised in a way. Perhaps when Yeats sketched them their poor social image which was evident in the 19th Century had improved and wren-boys had become more or less acceptable.

This had not been their lot. They were once deemed as "below buttermilk", a low-life crowd who went around town pubs with blackened faces and clothing disguise, singing ballads accompanied by harmonica or button-key accordion and then, most importantly, collecting money "to bury the wran".

The activities of wren-boys usually began on St Stephen's Day.

The 19th Century Wexford writer Patrick Kennedy considered them riff-raff and in his Banks of the Boro said they were "many degrees under Mayboys and mummers".

Amhlaidh O Suilleabhain, a teacher in Callan, Co Kilkenny, wrote in his diary of 1829: "The rabble of the town going from door to door with a wren in a holly bush asking for money in order to be drunk later that evening."

In Cork city, Lord Mayor Richard Dowden railed against "these idle fellows of the county" and banned hunting of the bird for reasons of cruelty. As well, the wren-boys were "read off the altar" in a sermon "as an excuse for begging and its consequent debauchery".

In the middle of the 20th Century I can remember some mature wren-boy groups, suitably disguised, still going from pub to pub but gradually schoolchildren began to take over and 'going out with the wran' became more socially acceptable.

But this was not universal and in Munster areas especially there were still a few wild lads on the road and they gave great entertainment.

The wren-boy recitations lived on. Some, to a patient housewife on a doorstep, would go: "The wran, the wran, the king of all birds/On St Stephen's Day he was caught in the furze/Although he is little his family is great/Rise up landlady and give us a treat/Up with the kettle, down with the pan/A penny or twopence to bury the wran."

The Tipperary-based poet Michael Coady could remind me, I'm sure, of the following: "As I was going to Killenaule I met a wran upon the wall/I up with me wattle and knocked him down/And brought him into Carrick town." The Clancy Brothers, from Carrick-on-Suir, many years ago recorded wren-boy and other folkloric pieces. On the Jack Yeats ballad sheet a particular verse was a reminder of simple rhymes heard in Carnegie Hall: "I have a little box under me arm/A shilling or two would do it no harm/A shilling or two would bring relief/To the poor wren boys on Christmas Eve."

And to my loyal readers may a more prosperous New Year bring an extra shilling or two in the times that are in it.

You'll find loads more on YouTube about the Wren Boys in different parts of Ireland.

    Current date/time is Wed 16 Aug 2017 - 15:57