Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the Feast of Stephen
When the snow lay ’round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath’ring winter fuel
Perhaps you know the tune to the lyrics above. The song is Good King Wenceslas, first published in 1853, and it tells the tale of a king venturing out into a snowstorm to give alms/Christmas leftovers to the poor during the feast of Saint Stephen. (Saint Stephen was a martyr that was stoned to death because of his religious beliefs.)
Giving to the poor on the second day of Christmas or Saint Stephens day was a tradition that is thought to have started during the middle ages when churches put out poor boxes or alms boxes for donations. Over time it morphed into wealthy folk giving their servants the day after Christmas off to spend with family. Traditionally they would send them home with a box filled with leftovers of the previous days feast and sometimes gifts or bonuses as well.
Today Boxing day can be compared to black Friday in the United States in terms of shopping and consumerism. You can still find some traditional boxing day celebrations such as parades or horse and hound meetups, but they are overshadowed by the shopping the day brings.
About the Author
Mallory Kroschel is a Information Commons Specialist at Metropolitan State University Library.