Boxing Day takes place on December 26th and is only celebrated in a few countries; mainly ones historically connected to the UK (such as Australia, South Africa and New Zealand) and in many European countries. In Germany it is known as « Zweite Feiertag” (which means ‘second celebration’)!
It was started in the UK about 800 years ago, during the Middle Ages. It was the day when the alms box, collection boxes for the poor often kept in churches, were traditionally opened so that the contents could be distributed to poor people. Some churches still open these boxes on Boxing Day.
It might have been the Romans that first brought this type of collecting box to the UK, but they used them to collect money for the betting games which they played during their winter celebrations!
The Christmas Carol, Good King Wenceslas, is set on Boxing Day and is about a King in the Middle Ages who brings food to a poor family.
It was also traditional that servants got the day off to celebrate Christmas with their families on Boxing Day. Before World War II, it was common for working people (such as milkmen and butchers) to travel round their delivery places and collect their Christmas box or tip. This tradition has now mostly stopped and any Christmas tips, given to people such as postal workers and newspaper delivery children, are not normally given or collected on Boxing Day.
There are also often sports played on Boxing Day in the UK, especially horse racing and football matches! It’s also when shops traditionally had big sales after Christmas in the UK (like Black Friday in the USA).
The 26th December is also St. Stephen’s Day. Just to confuse things, there are two St. Stephens in history! The first St. Stephen was a very early follower of Jesus and was the first Christian Martyr (a person who dies for their religious beliefs). He was stoned to death by Jews who didn’t believe in Jesus.
The second St. Stephen was a Missionary, in Sweden, in the 800s. He loved all animals but particularly horses (perhaps why there is traditionally horse racing on boxing day). He was also a martyr and was killed by pagans in Sweden. In Germany there was a tradition that horses would be ridden around the inside of the church during the St. Stephen’s Day service!
St. Stephen’s Day (or ‘the feast of Stephen’) is when the Carol ‘Good King Wenceslas‘ is set. It’s about helping the poor – so it has a strong connection to Boxing Day.
Thanksgiving is a very important American festivity and it is celebrated on the last Thursday of November.
However, schools and many shops and offices are closed for four days : Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Thanksgiving is a special day for families to be together and to thank God for all they have. Americans travel great distances to be with their families on this occasion.
Why is Thanksgiving such an important day ?
The tradition started with the pilgrims, the founders of America. The pilgrims left Great Britain in 1620 because of religious persecution. They wanted to start a new life in America and practise their religion in freedom.
One hundred men, women and children left Britain on a small ship called the Mayflower. Their sea voyage was very difficult. Many Pilgrims died during the voyage.
They arrived on the north-east coast of North America in December 1620 and found Plymouth. The area was a wilderness. It was winter and they had no homes and little food. They immediately built small homes, but it was too late to cultivate crops. The winter was very cold and harsh. Almost half of the Pilgrims died because their living conditions were very bad.
The friendly Wampanoag Indians helped them during the long winter. In the spring the Pilgrims met an Indian called Squanto. He explained how to grow corn, hunt and live in the wilderness. Soon the Pilgrims and the Indians became good friends. The Pilgrims worked hard and cultivated crops. The summer harvest was excellent. By November 1621 everyone had food and a home. There was hope for the future.
Governor William Bradford, the Pilgrim leader, decided to celebrate with a dinner for the Pilgrims and the Indians. He wanted to give thanks to God.
Today the traditional Thanksgiving meal is similar to the first. People eat roast turkey, sweet potatoes, corn, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. Most families start the meal with a prayer.
The long Thanksgiving week-end is the perfect time to start Christmas shopping ! Big stores are open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the Christmas shoppers.
wilderness : land that is not cultivate
crops : food which are cultivated
harsh : hostile
harvest : récolte
Do you want to make an original dessert for Thanksgiving ?
Try the Pilgrim’s Apple Crumble, a recipe from long ago ! It’ s easy to make and delicious to eat.
250g of flour
150g of brown sugar
100g of butter (at room temperature)
To make the fruit mixture you need :
900g of sliced apples
2 tablespoons of brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 cup of water
Make the crumble first. Put the flour into a bowl. Add the butter and mix with your hands. When the mixture is crumbly, add the sugar and mix well. Then make the fruit filling. Put the sliced apples, sugar and cinnamon stick into a big saucepan. Add the water and cook until the apples are soft.
When the fruit is ready put into a non-stick pie dish and cover the fruit with the crumble. Put the pie dish into the oven (200°C) and bake the crumble for 30-40 minutes. Remember, the top must be light brown. Happy Thanksgiving !