Travel

Here's the Deal with Boxing Day, a Mysterious but Very Real Holiday

Now's a good time to move beyond your vague idea of what Boxing Day's all about.

Ted McGrath/Megan Chong
Ted McGrath/Megan Chong
Ted McGrath/Megan Chong

This holiday season, like every other, we’ll all participate in the unspoken public charade that we know what’s going on with the day after Christmas. Not the Kwanzaa part, or the part about it being my birthday (thank you!), but the part about it being Boxing Day.

You probably have some vague notion of what Boxing Day is, but if you had to actually describe it? Crickets. This is fine; you’re not alone-one of the top Google searches on the subject is “What’s the point of Boxing Day?” You’ll see it on calendars sometimes, but it’s kind of like Arbor Day in that it’s not a federal holiday and nothing in particular seems to happen. At least, that’s the case here in the United States. But outside of America, Boxing Day is actually a bona fide public holiday, celebrated most heartily by the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth nations. Let’s explore.

The mysterious origins of Boxing Day

There’s not one agreed-upon origin story for Boxing Day-the deeper you dig, the greater the confusion. What we know for sure is that the holiday originated in Britain, all the way back in medieval times.

Common theories all involve some variation on the theme of giving to those less fortunate. Some believe the term “Boxing Day” comes from the practice of the rich donating a wooden box of Christmas leftovers to their servants and apprentices, who would work Christmas Day, but have December 26 off to celebrate with their families. It could also refer to collection boxes set up at churches, their contents distributed to the poor on December 26-he day of the Feast of St. Stephen, a Christian martyr known for acts of charity.

Okay, that’s nice, but is there boxing on Boxing Day?

Having been born on Boxing Day, I’ve fielded more Boxing Day-related questions than the average American. The first thing people in the States say, in my experience, is that they know Boxing Day has something to do with boxing-the act of putting stuff in boxes, and not boxing, the sport-but even that’s not really true.Jack Johnson became the first Black world heavyweight champion on Boxing Day, 1908. Half a dozen African Commonwealth nations schedule fights on December 26 to mark the occasion. And watching sporting events is one of the holiday’s most notable traditions around the world-Boxing Day is known for soccer (UK), ice hockey (Canada), cricket (Australia and New Zealand), horse racing (Australia, New Zealand, and the UK), yacht racing (Australia), and fox hunting (UK).

Nowadays, Boxing Day is basically Black Friday

In the more developed countries that celebrate Boxing Day, it’s primarily associated with shopping. For the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, Boxing Day is to Christmas what Black Friday is to Thanksgiving here in the US. But it’s not just about pushing your fellow citizens out of the way as you grab discounted electronics that you don’t really need but will damn well get anyway. For many people, it’s a post-Christmas chance to stay home and actually relax, play with their new toys, and watch a movie, maybe. Or just stuff themselves with leftovers.

Bahamas Junkanoo Legends
Bahamas Junkanoo Legends
Bahamas Junkanoo Legends

There are also Boxing Day parades and street parties

In Caribbean regions that were once under British rule, the charity box exchange on December 26 wasn’t between aristocrats and employees-it was between slave-owners and their slaves. Boxing Day was likely the only day off from forced labor that slaves received all year. Among their descendants, December 26 has become a dance party, a day of artistic expression, and a celebration of Afro-Caribbean culture.Boxing Day in Bermuda belongs to the Gombey dance troupes. Gombey, the Bantu word for “rhythm,” is a traditional dance performance dating back to the first African slaves the British brought to the Caribbean. Boxing Day, along with maybe New Year’s Day, was the only day the Gombey dance was allowed to be performed. The masquerade element of street dances and parades like this also dates back to this era-it granted dancers a degree of anonymity. These days the Gombey troupes dance on other holidays and at special events too, but Boxing Day is the Big One.

In the Bahamas, Boxing Day was the day slave owners gave their slaves wooden boxes filled with leftovers from the day before. And it was one of the few, if not the only, days of rest. Today, that tradition has grown into an annual celebration of black Caribbean Garifuna culture: the wild and colorful street carnival, Junkanoo. The festivities kick off on Boxing Day and continue into the new year.Over in Belize, you get the same masquerade-filled rhythmic Garifuna dance party, but here, it’s called Jonkonnu. The spelling may vary, but the origins are the same: slaves filling a rare day of leisure with music and dance. Jamaica (where the same style of festival is known as John Canoe; again, there are lots of spellings) has cultivated its own marquee tradition: pantomime. This kind of musical comedy comes from the Brits, but it’s Jamaicans who elevated it. The National Pantomime Season commences on Boxing Day each year.

In Turks and Caicos, the masquerade tradition became what’s today known as just “Masses.” Here, the Maskanoo festival is celebrated with elaborate costumes, street dancing, and live music all across the islands. It remains joyously non-commercialized, for now. The Boxing Day street parade in Trinidad & Tobago is J’ouvert, which in this case is the opening party of the larger celebration of Carnival.

So, there you have it. Boxing Day. You might find that, in your own way, you’ve been celebrating Boxing Day all along-by overspending on post-holiday sales, perhaps, or via informal boxing matches with offensive members of your distant family. While you’re at it, why not box up those leftovers for someone who really needs them.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Kastalia Medrano was a Staff Writer at Thrillist. You can send her Venmo tips at @kastaliamedrano.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Related

Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.