Boxing Day meets around the country are expected to attract record crowds this year as hunt supporters gather in defiance of the legislation forced through by the government.
As Boxing Day falls on a Sunday (a day when hunting does not take place), this year’s festivities will take place on Bank Holiday Monday (27 December) and are likely to have a more serious note to them, as hunts announce their resolve to continue hunting in some form.
The tradition of the Boxing Day meet dates from Victorian times, when public holidays were a rarity. Until the introduction of New Year’s Day as a bank holiday in England and Wales in 1975, Boxing Day was the only public holiday during the fox hunting season. For this reason it has enjoyed particular popularity as a hunting day since Boxing Day itself was established in the 1840s.
One huntsman from the West Midlands remembers hunting on Boxing Day in the thirties: “When I was living in Hereford, the main street was closed for the hunt meet. There was always a huge turnout considering that the majority of hunt followers didn’t have vehicles and were riding in from 15 or 20 miles away.
“There were always more followers than at any other meet during the year, and the cap was always taken for the hunt staff, so they got plenty of support.”
These meets even continued through both World Wars, bearing witness to the depths of hunting’s roots in rural life, and as hunting enjoyed a surge of popularity in the post war years, Boxing Day became more of an institution.
Hunting historian Raymond Carr says that the annual feast was the most significant day in the hunting calendar in his youth.
“It’s a great tradition. Held at a popular pub in the town, it was always the biggest meet in the year, making the most money for the hunt staff. It was also very useful for popularising the hunt among the non-hunting classes.”
For Carr, however, the day had its drawbacks. “I remember many hunting people actually choosing to avoid that particular meet,” he says. “Whether because of a Christmas hangover, or as in my case, because the meet on that day was in one of the most precarious bits of country – near Lynton.”
This year, the strength of the support for hunting will be undiminished by the regular anti-hunting protests. Normally commonplace on Boxing Day, they have been cancelled this year as the true force of opposition to a ban on hunting becomes clear.
While “mounting threats and intimidation from the hunting community” have been cited as reasons for crying off, the Countryside Alliance insists that this is pure fabrication. An Alliance spokesperson explains: “Any anti-hunting protest on Boxing Day this year would be totally insignificant. Even in years gone by, hunting supporters have outnumbered protesters by 1000-1. This year, the day will be an unanswered show of strength of opposition to the temporary hunting ban, and of the intention to defy and repeal this unjust legislation.”
Hunting on Boxing Day, it seems, is a part of the British way of life which is not going to go away.