For almost four hundred years, the 26th of December was a sort of “kindness” day. It was the day to reward the common folk who had performed services for you all year to get a “box” with gifts, or money, or food. Servants and other common tradespeople looked forward to “boxing day” as a time when they might receive small tokens of appreciation, a form of kindness from those who had more to help those who had less. It was (and is) celebrated throughout the Commonwealth countries and in Europe where its origin is probably more closely related to Saint Stephen.
In Britain, it was a custom for tradespeople to collect "Christmas boxes" of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year. This is mentioned in Samuel Pepys' diary entry for 19 December 1663 (Samuel Pepys is the handsome gentleman in the picture to the right, and someone I had to study for my Ph.D.). This custom is linked to an older English tradition: since they would have to wait on their masters on Christmas Day, the servants of the wealthy were allowed the next day to visit their families. The employers would give each servant a box to take home containing gifts, bonuses and sometimes leftover food.
The European tradition, which has long included giving money and other gifts to those who were needy and in service positions, has been dated to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown. It is believed to be in reference to the Alms Box placed in areas of worship to collect donations to the poor. Also, it may come from a custom in the late Roman/early Christian era, wherein metal boxes placed outside churches were used to collect special offerings tied to the Feast of Saint Stephen, which in the Western Church falls on the same day as Boxing Day.
Sadly, “kindness” is now one of the very last things anyone thinks about on Boxing Day. It has gone the way of all flesh and is now more closely related to greed and consumerism. In the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, Boxing Day is primarily known as a shopping holiday, much like Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) in the United States. Boxing Day sales are common in Canada. It is a time when shops hold sales often with dramatic price reductions. For many merchants, Boxing Day has become the day of the year with the greatest revenue. Many retailers open very early (typically 5 am or even earlier) and offer doorbuster deals and loss leaders to draw people to their stores. It is not uncommon for long queues (lines) to form early in the morning of 26 December, hours before the opening of shops holding the big sales, especially at big-box consumer electronics retailers. The local media often cover the event, mentioning how early the shoppers began queuing up, and showing video of shoppers queuing and later leaving with their purchased items. No acts of kindness make their way onto the television or the into the newspapers.
What has happened to us when we turn the day after Thanksgiving into a day of shopping with no thoughts of thankfulness and the day after Christmas into another mass shopping day complete with elbowing, profanity, and attempts to get the best deals possible. Something serious has been lost. Both days, the one after Thanksgiving and the one after Christmas ought to represent what is the best in us and demonstrate our kindness and caring for those who are in need. Perhaps the next time you hear the terms “Black Friday” (the day after Thanksgiving) or “Boxing Day” (the day after Christmas), you can turn what they've become on their ear and do random acts of kindness instead. So, on this “Boxing Day” maybe you can box up some of the leftover food, old toys, and other things so badly needed by the homeless and helpless and can deliver a “kindness box” to those who need it. You may think that when I say “those who need it” I am talking about the homeless and poor, but I’m not. Those who “need it” are you and me who need to be reminded that kindness is why Christ came and how He wants us to respond to His coming. What a great tradition to start with your children and family to mark a “Day of Kindness” on the day after we celebrate all we have been given. I’m just sayin’.