Part of cricket's pageantry is the "Boxing Day" Test, which has been a long-observed tradition in Australia. In recent years, the practice of hosting a Test encounter during that special day has been mimicked by South Africa, the only other Test playing nation to reach the peak of the summer season at Christmastime.
But why is it that cricket constitutes the day's chief entertainment when the occasion is called "Boxing Day"? Surely, a pair of prized pugilists should be slogging it out for the thrills of an enthralled audience? But there is nothing to do with the sport of boxing to "Boxing Day".
What is Boxing Day?
Truth be told, there is no clear origin of the name "Boxing Day". The term for the day in question - December 26 - perhaps derives from the tradition of giving boxes of money and other gifts to the needy and to servicemen. The European tradition dates back to the Roman and early Christian era where metal boxes were placed outside churches to collect special offerings related to the feast of St Stephen.
Another possible explanation is that in several countries, commodities are sold at tax-free rates and goods are "boxed" for large purchases and whole-sales. Boxing Day is also a bank and public holiday observed in most of the British Commonwealth as well as Germany, Austria, Romania and a few other countries.
No Boxing Day matches
There were no Boxing Day Test matches played in Australia between 1953 and 1967 and the feature was an on and off affair till 1980 when the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) and the Australian Cricket Team secured the rights to play the match annually. So, the Boxing Day Test has been a thriving and continual tradition for the last 30 years.
The Test match on that particular day has been known to unfold to very-large or sell-out crowds. At the MCG, there have been record audiences, averaging between 70,000 and 80,000. At the last Ashes encounter between the visiting English side and Australia in 2006, the crowd was recorded to be 89,155-strong.
This December 26th, the tally is expected to go up to about 100,000, while at Durban in South Africa, organisers are expecting close to a house-full as well. The teams playing will indeed be "sparring" to much fanfare this Boxing Day.
First ever Boxing Day Test was played in 1950
"The first ever Test match involving Boxing Day took place in 1950. Prior to that, Boxing Day at the MCG had been the domain of Sheffield Shield cricket, often the highly popular Victoria-New South Wales encounters.
"Many famous events have happened during the Boxing Day Test, including umpire Darrell Hair calling Sri Lankan spinner Muttiah Muralitharan for throwing in 1995 and Shane Warne taking his 700th Test wicket in 2006 against England in his final MCG Test," the official website of MCG said.