Welcome back to my series on Holiday History Recollections, where I’m looking at some of the posts I’ve done over the years on the history of holiday words and traditions!

Holiday History Recollection #1
Holiday History Recollection #2
Holiday History Recollection #3
Holiday History Recollection #4

Since today is not only Boxing Day but also the Second Day of Christmas, I figured today is the PERFECT day to take a look at both the Twelve Days and Boxing Day traditions!

So…what’s Boxing Day? Though our friends across the pond don’t even have to ask, we Americans may scratch our heads a bit at this one. We know that it is, just not necessarily what it is.

From reading, I knew that Boxing Day was the day after Christmas, which, historically speaking, servants had off to celebrate Christmas with their families. But obviously there’s more history to it than that, right?

Of course there is! 😉

The phrase itself originated in 1809, but it comes from a practice that dates back to the Middle Ages. The day after Christmas was, you see, traditionally the day when the alms-box located at each church was opened up and distributed among the poor. It also then became the day when servants, service people like postal employees or errand boys, etc, could expect a gift from their employers, usually given in a small box. And then, of course, it was also the day servants could then leave the masters to fend for themselves and go enjoy the contents of those gift boxes with their own families or friends. The boxes usually included gifts of money and leftover food from the Christmas feast.

These days, Boxing Day has become a shopping holiday, filled with sales much like America’s Black Friday deals. It’s when people can expect the best sales of the year. There are certain areas in Canada where this has been banned and retailers are to remain closed on Dec 26, to provide the holiday to their employees. Very traditional, that. 😉 In those regions, Dec 27 gets the good sales instead.

These days, all the hype is leading up to Christmas. So much so that on December 26, it feels kinda like a letdown, right? The all-Christmas-music-all-the-time radio stations are back to normal programming. Some people start taking down decorations. By the time New Year’s rolls around, people look at you like you’re crazy if you’re still wishing them a Merry Christmas.

I do it anyway. Why? Because the Christmas season traditionally begins on December 25. It doesn’t end there.

The Christmas season is about much more than a day: it is about celebrating the miracle and life of Christ. Just as we have the Advent Calendar to count up to Christmas Day, so we also have the Twelve Days, which follow Christmas and lead up to the Epiphany on January 6.

Surviving mainly in Europe today, the Epiphany is a long-celebrated day that remembers the arrival of the Magi. Literally “Manifestation,” the Epiphany is also the day taken to commemorate the second birth or baptism of Christ and the importance of God being made man through that act. In many parts of the world, the Epiphany is just as celebrated (or even more so) as Christmas…and in the days when sweets and citrus fruits were primary decorations, children especially loved this day, because it’s when they got to eat those candies and fruit. 😉

The Twelve Days covers all sorts of important moments in Christianity, like Christ being named 8 days after birth. The importance of the Christmas star. The journey the magi took. The baptism of Christ, as already mentioned. And so much more.

Of course, many of us know about the Twelve Days solely because of THAT SONG. You know the one. Love it? Hate it? Tradition states that the song was created during the early years of the Reformation in England, used as an encoded teaching tool for Catholics, with each day or item representing something about their faith, so that they could teach it to their children without bringing the Protestant authorities down on their heads (this being the age when being Catholic would get you sent to the gallowed in England, quite literally). Is there truth to this theory on the song? Historians disagree. But while the real story behind it is murky, the song itself has certainly persisted!

In our family, we like to remember the full Twelve Days and never take decorations down until the traditional day, January 6. And there’s something really special about stretching it out like that. About making Christmas the start of something, instead of the end. Because really, Christ’s arrival was just the beginning. And this helps us to remember that.

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