Boxing Day originated in England during the Middle Ages. On St. Stephen's Day, churches distributed money that had been collected in alms boxes throughout the year to the poor. The tradition on St. Stephen's Day (December 26th) was immortalized in the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas. (A nobleman and his page ventured out into the cold to bring food to the home of a poor man.)
Other traditions emerged when the staff of wealthy English estates who worked on Christmas Day were given boxes of food for their own celebrations. (Think Downton Abbey or Gosford Park.) Surplus food was also boxed for distribution to the poor.
Traditional Boxing Day observances ended in the 13 colonies after the American Revolution and gradually disappeared in Great Britain. The Old Manse, a National Historic Landmark in Concord, Massachusetts, is keeping their memory alive.
Tom Beardsley, Historic Site Manager (who is from Yorkshire, England), introduced the Boxing Day event 5 years ago. The event appeals to families from Greater Boston's large British expat community that have relatives from overseas visiting at Christmas.
Guests sip cider and nibble on biscuits. During tours of the Georgian clapboard building, guides in period dress provide an overview of Boxing Day traditions. Local gourmet shoppes sell British delicacies, candies and gifts.
The event, called Refreshments for Redcoats, reflects the significance of The Old Manse in American history, which is also discussed during the tour. Built in 1770, The Old Manse was the residence of Rev. William Emerson, the minister of the Old Brick Church, which was the oldest church in Boston.
In 1775, Rev. Emerson witnessed the opening battle of the American Revolution from his window when Minutemen stopped British troops (the redcoats) at the Old North Bridge which, at the time, was on the grounds of the Old Manse.
Other famous residents included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Rev. Emerson's son and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Throughout the year, groups can arrange private tours of the Old Manse and special events on the grounds.
Photo Credits: The Old Manse