What’s the deal with Boxing Day?

Written By komlim puldel on Rabu, 24 Desember 2014 | 20.01

It's the most wonderful time of the year! Source: News Limited

It's the biggest shopping day of the year and there are plenty of ways to grab a good deal.

THERE are a lot of special things we only do at Christmas.

We put up a tree, we give each other presents, we go to church at midnight, we eat fruitcake. But does anyone really know why we do these things? We'll tell you.

First thing's first: Why does Christmas exist?

Christmas is traditionally a Christian holiday, celebrated each year to remember the birth of Jesus, God's son, in Bethlehem some 2014 years ago. Some people still celebrate Christmas for this reason, and others look at it as a chance to spend quality time with family and friends.

So, is it Christmas, or Xmas?

It's not unusual to see 'Christmas' shortened to 'Xmas'. While many believe that Christmas was dubbed Xmas because people wanted to remove all associations with Jesus from the day, that's a bit of an urban myth — the X in Xmas literally means Jesus.

The New Testament in the Bible was written in Greek, and the word Christ begins with the letter X:

Explained, in pictures! Source: Supplied

According to Vox, "most scholars agree that the first appearance of this abbreviation for Christmas dates to 1021, when an Anglo-Saxon scribe saved himself space by writing XPmas. Parchment paper was quite expensive, so any techniques for saving space were welcome. The abbreviation stuck and eventually was shortened to Xmas."

Interestingly, the name 'Christmas' is in itself a kind of abbreviation — it's derived from 'The Mass of Christ', which is a special service to honour the birth of Jesus. It traditionally takes place after sunset on Christmas Eve but before sunrise on Christmas Day, and while it's officially known as 'The Mass of Christ' it's more commonly dubbed 'midnight mass'.

So, Christ-mas, Christmas, Xmas — it's all essentially the same thing.

And why December 25?

As you'll soon see, a lot of our Christmas traditions come from the northern hemisphere, and the day we celebrate Christmas is no exception. Although Christmas is a Christian holiday, the date Christmas falls on is not Jesus' actual birthday. December 25 was selected as the day to commemorate it by the Western Church sometime in the fourth century, because it lined up with a few other celebrations at the time. The Winter Solstice was one of them, which was a festival signifying new life — spring was coming, and the sun had conquered the winter darkness. For Christians, Jesus is the thing the signifies new life, and the early Christians thought that having a celebration at that time of year too was a good fit. It was Pope Julius I who officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th December.

Is this the way to Bethlehem? Source: Supplied

So where did Santa enter the picture?

Contrary to popular belief, Santa Claus was not invented by Coca-Cola. Today's Santa is based on a saint who existed during the 4th century called Saint Nicholas. He went around giving presents to children in need, in his official Bishop's red robes. After he died, people gave gifts to children in his honour until Martin Luther decided the ritual should coincide with December 25, so the focus could be on Christ as the 'ultimate gift-giver', instead of on a saint.

There's also a touch of inspiration for Santa from Odin, a pagan god who led a hunting party atop a Sleipnir, which is a horse with 8 legs. Odin travelled with Sleipnir and eight reindeer, and would ride about filling children's boots with candy on the German holiday Yule, which is celebrated around the same time as Christmas.

As for the whole naughty/nice thing, that's a notion that is thought to have originated from Denmark. They have a slightly more sinister legend about a Dutch 'Sinterklass' who wears red and white, a bishop's hat, travels to Denmark on steam boat from Spain, and knows if you've been naughty. He has helpers known as Zwarte Piets, who give good kids gifts, but punish the naughty ones with jutes and willow canes.

So, the Santa we have today seems to be a bit of a mishmash of Saint Nick, the Dutch Sinterklaas and Odin. The one thing they all have in common is that they give presents, and that seems to be why we do, too.

Christmas stockings full of Christmas treats. Source: Supplied

And where do we get the whole stocking thing from?

The 1823 poem T'was the Night Before Christmas is not only a Christmas tradition in itself, but the first known publication of the ritual of hanging up stockings. Now whether this is legend or myth or reality I'm not sure, but Time magazine say that "the original Saint Nicholas, who travelled around bringing gifts and cheer to those in need, came upon a small village one year and heard of a family in need.

"An impoverished widower, devastated by the passing of his wife, could not afford to provide a dowry for his three daughters. St. Nick knew the man was too prideful to accept money, so he simply dropped some gold coins down the chimney, which landed in the girl's stockings, hung by the fireplace to dry." Who are we to argue with that?

Why do we sing carols?

The word 'carol' actually means a dance or a song of praise and joy, and doesn't necessarily have anything to do with Christmas. Carols were originally sung during Winter Solstice celebrations, before early Christians put Jesus-centred words to them. It's thought that the first Christmas carol was a song called Angel's Hymn, written in AD 129 by a Roman Bishop.

Let's move onto food … and pudding

The Christmas pudding seems to be one of those things that's evolved over time across many countries, dating as far back as ancient Rome. The tradition of making things like fruitcakes and puddings for special occasions, however, became popular in the 17th century because of the extravagance of the ingredients. Nuts, raisins, spices, candied fruit, rum … it became so decadent that at one time, it was banned by the Puritans!

As to how the pudding became associated with Christmas, one theory is that in 1714, King George I tasted it as part of a Christmas meal, and made it legal to create again. Another theory is that, because its ingredients were so expensive, people would candy fruit throughout the year at different harvest times, and at the end of the year, put them all in a pudding to serve at a special occasion — and what's a better end-of-year special occasion than Christmas?

Christmas pudding, yum. Source: ThinkStock

How about Candy Canes?

The most popular theory about the origin of the Candy Cane is that a choirmaster in Germany in 1670 wanted to give the kids at the Christmas service something to eat to keep them settled. He gave them white sugar sticks, made into an upside-down J shape to resemble the shepherd's staffs.

The candy cane then spread from Germany to the rest of Europe, into America and then the rest of the world. Sometime around the 1900s the peppermint flavour was added, as well as red and green stripes.

Speaking of red and green …

Clearly the colours of Christmas, we have the European continent to thank for the prevalence of red and green. During their winter, things like holly, ivy, pine trees and mistletoe were used to brighten up homes and churches and Christmas plays. Christians later reinterpreted the red and green to resemble new life (green) and Jesus' blood (red).

Red and green everywhere. Source: Supplied

Now that we've mentioned mistletoe …

Mistletoe is a plant that grows on apple and willow trees, and it's spread through bird poo. In fact, its name is derived from two Anglo Saxon words which literally mean poo on a stick. So how did we go from that to it being something we kiss under?

Well, in Norse Mythology, mistletoe is a sign of love and friendship. Somewhere along the way the English caught on, and every time a berry was picked from the mistletoe, they would give someone a kiss. When the berries ran out, so did the kisses. Somehow, possibly because of its colour, mistletoe wheedled its way into being used as a Christmas decoration, and the two traditions were rolled into one.

And what about the Christmas tree?

Well it wouldn't be Christmas without a tree now, would it? The Christmas tree has its roots in pagan Europe, where trees were worshipped during the Winter Solstice. The tree made the jump into being a Christmas symbol in Germany, where they were used on Adam and Eve day, which falls on Christmas Eve, to symbolise the Garden of Eden. Latvia also used a tree in their town square in Riga in 1510 as part of their Christmas and New Year celebrations.

The German royal family are largely credited for bringing the tree to England, thanks to Prince Albert's marriage to Queen Victoria in 1840. He erected a pine tree in their Windsor Castle home, and had their children decorate it. All it took was a family portrait taken by a London paper with the beautifully decorated tree in the background for the idea to take off around the UK.

Oh, Christmas Tree! Source: Getty Images

Why do we say 'Merry Christmas'?

The short answer is, no-one's really sure. Because the day is a happy one? Quite possibly, but some credit Charles Dickens with popularising the term in his 1843 story A Christmas Carol.

Why do we have Boxing Day?

Get ready to email this piece of information on: Boxing Day is traditionally the day people receive gifts from their bosses. Say what now?!

In the 17th century, servants used to have their day off on December 26, because of course they had to work on December 25. So, as a goodwill gesture, their employers would pop things like leftover food and a little bonus money in a box to give out the day after Christmas.

These days, we get a public holiday, there are of course the Boxing Day sales, and people who want to keep the tradition alive give a gift in a box.

See ya next Christmas. Source: News Limited

More: whychristmas.com | The remarkable origins of Christmas | Christmas for Dummies | A brief history of Christmas traditions

There is a lot of information out there about Christmas, and we've endeavoured to pull the most accurate explainer together as possible. Did we miss something? Tell us in the comments below. And Merry Christmas!


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