United Kingdom: when Boxing Day was above all a day of service to the most precarious

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It was, a few days ago, Boxing Day, a highly commercial day in various Commonwealth countries. For a long time, however, this day was that of a feast where we turned to others like Stephen, the first known Christian martyr celebrated on December 26th. 

Saint Stephen's Day, the day after Christmas, sees its traditions and ideals compete with the sales on which customers rush. In an article from December 20 dedicated to this famous "Boxing Day", the National Geographic affirms with irony that the name of this event has nothing to do with the need to return to the stores the gifts which do not please. There is indeed no question of consumerism in the origin of the name.

On this day, the British sing the song "Good King Wenceslas", which can be found in various films, like the famous “Love Actually” with Hugh Grant portraying a Prime Minister who sings it for children. A song that narrates the legend of a king embroidered around the life of Saint Wenceslas, Duke of Bohemia, duke concerned about the poor. He says the king braved the "deep, crisp, even" snow to help a poor peasant during Saint-Etienne and ends with a call to bless the needy.

A tradition of charity in the Anglican Church

The National Geographic recalls that there are several possible origins to this festival whose name dates back to around 1830.

In recent centuries, workers, servants or delivery men received tips on this day. Another possible origin of the holiday is when servants were sent home on Boxing Day with leftovers from the meal, while their employers also made do with leftovers. Some historians have another theory that links the use of the word “boxing” to donation boxes set up in churches during Advent in the second and third centuries AD; they were open on Boxing Day and money was given to the poor.

Today, few Britons are still familiar with these traditional boxes, observe Christianity Today. Admittedly, we still tip merchants, but the sense of Christian charity is no longer widespread, the spirit of community and service fades away.

Stephen Cottrell, the Anglican Archbishop of York does not intend to give up the spirit of the party: "For me, Boxing Day will always and above all be St. Stephen's Day". The third character of the Church of England specifies that “the Christian calendar reminds us of the memory of the first Christian martyr, the day after the celebration of the birth of Jesus. No cozy stables are allowed. If we choose to follow this child, there will be challenges, there will be conflicts, there will be consequences”. And the clergyman adds that December 26 is for him “a walk, a cold turkey, bubbles […] but also a church”.

Across the Kingdom, various communities maintain this tradition of charitable donations, hosting singles and families for lunch. This is for example the case of St. Paul's Church in central London which offers around a hundred plates.

At St. Stephen's Church (Saint Etienne), we do not forget that the religious building is a testimony of charity. Wealthy residents had the building constructed in the mid-XNUMXth century so that town servants would not have to travel and pay tolls to worship. The name of the Church evokes the diaconal service of Stephen, it is like “a deacon, a servant for the servants of the city”, according to Andy Todd who officiates there as a priest.

This former industrial worker recalls the commercial Boxing Days that "felt very withdrawn and a bit superficial" and now lives the day with more depth: "Coming to St. Stephen and emphasizing this special day is a true celebration of community and service”.

Jean Sarpedon

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