As Boxing Day is a day not recognised in the USA, we have included a bit of information about it on this Christmas page. Boxing Day is December 26th, (also the feast of St Stephen), and is a public holiday in both New Zealand and Australia.
It's name probably comes from a custom which started around 800 years ago in the UK. Churches would open their 'alms boxe', and distribute the contents to poor people in the neighbourhood on the day after Christmas. This was a box in which people who could afford to had placed gifts of money, especially over the Christmas period.
Also on December 26th, apprentices and servants broke open small earthenware boxes in which their masters had deposited small sums of money during the year. In large households, the family used this day to distribute Christmas boxes to their staff and in later centuries it was traditional for even modest homeowners to give their servants and retainers a small gift on the day after Christmas. Servants were traditionally given Boxing Day off to spend with their families after working through Christmas Day.
This tradition continues today in some countries - small gifts may be given to delivery workers such as postal staff and children who deliver newspapers. However this is not typical in New Zealand where Boxing Day is really just another day off work and is often spent getting over the excesses of Christmas Day.
What is now a major televised event began in 1938, the brainchild of a Melbourne radio broadcaster, Norman Banks. He saw it as a way of converting the love and goodwill of the season into practical help for the less fortunate - in this case, the vison impaired.
Using his contacts, he organised a Christmas Eve carol concert in the heart of Melbourne's parklands at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl and invited the people of Melbourne to join him. To raise money for the Royal Victorian Institute of the Blind, he arranged for candles inserted into circles of cardboard to be exchanged for a donation.
These candles follow the tradition of the English Christingle or Christ-light services. Hundreds of years ago,the old people - especially the poor old - were allowed to beg for money on December 21, St Thomas' Day, to pay for their Christmas dinners. This developed into special church services where gifts of goods and money were brought to be distributed later to the needy. In exchange, the givers received a Christ-light - a candle inserted into a specially decorated orange.
"Carols by Candlelight" was broadcast over the radio for many years until the coming of televison. For sixty years now, the tradition has continued and has become a major source of income for the RVIB.
Originally, there was no charge to attend as it was public space. Now the Bowl area is fenced off and you also have to pay for admission, which offsets the costs of the spectacular entertainment the event has become, even though all performers donate their services.
The thousands who will carpet the sloping lawns this Christmas Eve and the millions more who watch at home will keep alive what is now a very important tradition. Many local communities gather in parks and halls in the weeks preceding Christmas for similar smaller events, with the sale of the candles going to local charities. Other state capitals have developed big carol concerts but none has the unique magic of Melbourne's Carols by Candlelight on Christmas Eve.
In New Zealand Carols by Candlelight events tend to be sponsored by TV stations or community groups - so that entry is still free although candles can usually be bought in return for a donation to charity.
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