Boxing Day

It is Boxing Day in Townsville, and El Nino has bitten hard. There is the inevitability of rain but no present hope. The sky is strangely like an old monk’s tonsure nothing above but around the horizon are banks of cloud. The hope of rain … but no promise. Those jobs such as clearing out gutters are too difficult with the dual temptations of the family jigsaw puzzle and the Boxing Day test … and it is just too damn hot.

So I find myself belatedly reading John Harms’s excellent piece on Christmas eve. My reaction is to ponder, why on earth we do it. It is always hot, the chocolate coated almonds are sticky to touch and those paper crowns are never big enough or resilient enough for my sweating melon.

It is after all a midwinter festival. I have always thought it perplexing that Augustus would have ordered a census in the depths of the Northern winter.

Interestingly enough Christmas was not among the festivals of the early church.

The first reference to the birth of Christ is by Clement of Alexandria in 200AD, he an Egyptian theologian had identified the date of birth of Christ as being on 20th of May in the twenty-eighth year of the reign of Augustus.

It seems that Pope Julius I assigned the 25th of December as the date of the birth of Christ in about 350 AD. But it was more to settle a theological discussion rather than to establish a festival. But it is plain from the writings of Silva of Bordeaux that Christmas was not celebrated in Jerusalem in 385 AD.

This it seems that like so many things the celebration of Christmas merged with earlier Pagan festivals to be what it is became.

Despite all of that I wouldn’t miss it for quids. I love having my offspring home and joining in with the wider family. Like many I was saddened to read of Christmas being banned in some countries.

Sadly, the reality is that it has been done before, in 1644 by Act of Parliament the celebration of Christmas in England and Wales was outlawed.

The strict puritanical view which promoted these laws was articulated by Philip Stubbes when he described Christmas in the following terms:

“More mischief, is that time committed, than in all the year besides … What dicing and carding, what eating and drinking, what banqueting and feasting is then used …to the great dishonour of God and the impoverishing of the realm”.

Increasingly, in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the Puritans, came to frown upon the celebration of Christmas, for two reasons.

Firstly, they disliked the waste, extravagance, disorder, sin and immorality of Christmas celebrations.

Secondly, they saw Christmas (that is, Christ’s mass) as an unwelcome survival of the Roman Catholic faith, as a ceremony, particularly encouraged by the Catholic church ….. as a popish festival with no biblical justification.

They said – nowhere had God called upon mankind to celebrate Christ’s nativity. What they wanted was a much stricter observance of the Lord’s day (Sundays), and the abolition of what they considered to be the popish and sinful celebration of Christmas, Easter, and all the other assorted festivals and saints’ days.

The effects of the Long Parliament and then the protectorate were profound.

For the sin of celebrating Christ’s birth on the 25th of December a citizen could be fined or placed in the stocks.

In London soldiers seized any food they suspected was being stored for illicit festive purposes.

Government officers supported by Justices of the Peace and Sheriffs forced markets and shops to carry on business as usual on the 25th of December.

The making of and/or sale of mince pies was outlawed in 1646.

It was not until the Stewart Restoration in 1660 that Christmas could be openly celebrated, in all there were 18 years without Christmas.

After the restoration, there remained a sour disposition against Christmas. During this time there was no independent Judiciary or politicians to stand up for Christmas.

The hero of Christmas was neither a Judge nor a lawyer but a poet, William Winstanley, fought a tireless guerrilla campaign with the pen. Writing as “Poor Robin Goodfellow” he wrote poems, pamphlets and books extolling the virtue of Christmas.

The celebration of Christmas took some time to revive in Britain, it was a slow and generally personal recovery. Samuel Pepys noted in his diary that on Christmas Day 1666 he enjoyed “some good ribs of beef roasted and mince pies with plenty of good wine”.

By the late 1680s Christmas had taken root and was celebrated with all the rigour and joy of the long gone past. The recovery of Christmas was deep and long lasting.

The strength of that recovery was demonstrated by an event approximately 90 years later when on the 25th of December 1769, the captain, crew and company of HM Bark Endeavour celebrated Christmas while battling heavy seas off the North Island of New Zealand. The crew of the Endeavour marked the occasion by feasting on ‘Goose pye’ for their Christmas dinner. There were no geese, so the crew had to improvise – with a magnificent gannet that had been shot in preparation for the feast by the ship’s noted botanist, Joseph Banks.

Apparently the Endeavour’s crew spent Boxing Day ‘nursing hangovers’.

Would any of us want to lose it? And, because next year is an Olympic year , a Presidential election and a leap year there are in fact 365 sleeps to go!


About Anthony W Collins

A northerner with a mild distrust of anyone from south of St Lawrence.


  1. And Boxing Day? The granting of presents to modern batsmen of modest talents? When did that begin? Dragging black slaves in chains into the Colliseum to be fed to lions, and other jolly japes.
    Emperor Wally using his ICC dispensation to grant circuses, as the Holy ICC Empire no longer makes filling bread.
    Greetings from unseasonally mild Perth to the sweltering tropics. Love the history. There is nothing new under the sun. Everything new was old once.

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