The day after Christmas, the weather was blustery and cold, but the huntsman cast his hounds in the vast English field while the lords and ladies, mounted on huffing hotblooded horses, trotted up the lane to join in the foxhunt.
So have foxhunting traditions been kept for hundreds of years on the day after Christmas, known in history as Boxing Day.
The origins of Boxing Day are not entirely clear. It is said the name, “boxing” came from the alms boxes at the churches, which were opened by the priests and distributed to the poor after the Christmas service contributions. It’s also known as St. Stephens Day, after the patron saint of the lower classes. While Christmas Day was for gifts among equals, Boxing Day was for gifts to the lower classes.
It is also known that the lords and landowners would “box” leftovers, including food, and gifts, after Christmas day and distribute them to servants and staff within the households and stables.
Another explanation was that Christmas was a time that all servants and workers on the manor were gathered together; the lord would give the required “staples” out to the serfs. Boxes for each family would be filled with the years’ allotment of the estate, such as tools, cloth, leather goods, salt, etc., each box filled according to the station of the worker – bigger jobs meant more supplies. The serfs would carry the boxes home with them when they returned to their hovels and shacks in the nether reaches of the manor lands.
Boxing Day may also refer to the practice of servants in bringing a box with a coin slot to their masters – coins would be dropped into the boxes as a gift, or wages, for the servants’ year of work. While some of the Boxing Day tradition appears to be magnanimous gifting, it is possible that it was also an obligatory tradition, payment for services rendered. Regardless of how it originated, the day has continued for hundreds of years as a day of giving.
Our hunt uses Boxing Day not only as a day for hunting sport, and time to enjoy each others company, but to offer gifts (usually cash) to our huntsman for his service to our hunt and to us throughout the year. It’s sort of another Christmas day, after Christmas day.
In England, Boxing Day is massive country-wide foxhunting day, as it is in America. It’s also celebrated in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. In South Africa, it was re-named Day of Goodwill in 1994, and it’s also known as the feast day of St. Stephen in Ireland. Foxhunting enthusiasts in Great Britain have used the day to show massive countrywide support and encouragement of outdoor sports since the well-publicized ban on foxhunting in 2004. The BBC reported that at the height of the British anti-ban movement, 320,000 riders turned out on Boxing Day in 2006 to participate in local foxhunts. This may be the biggest turnout ever for foxhunting.
Boxing Day is also just about mid-season, and the weather conditions are usually good for scent. It’s also near the holidays and many hunting members have the time to ride and join in the festivities. The horses are usually fit enough for a good run, should one be available, and the hounds having hunted half the season already are in good form as well. If you plan on hunting on Boxing Day next year, don’t forget to fill your flask, bring a fit horse, and a “gift” for your huntsman! Tally-ho!