Why is it called Boxing Day?
The exact origins of the holiday are a bit muddled. Some say the name of the holiday comes from “Christmas Box,” the name for a Christmas gift. One tradition in particular describes how the British aristocracy would give presents (and a day off) to servants and employees as a sign of gratitude for their help working on Christmas day.
Others point to the charity boxes placed outside of churches to collect money for the poor. Priests also placed Christmas boxes on ships. Crewmen would drop money in it to ensure a safe return. If the ship returned safely, the money would be distributed to the poor.
How is Boxing Day celebrated?
Boxing Day has been a national holiday in England, Wales, Ireland and Canada since 1871. If the day falls on the weekend, the following Monday is observed as a public holiday.
Typically, Brits observe the holiday by eating leftovers, watching TV, soccer matches and horse races. In England, fox hunting was a traditional activity on Boxing Day, but has since been banned – although some hunts continue to take place on Dec. 26. For those who want to act silly, some participate in the Boxing Day Dip -- a charity event where people swim in the sea while wearing costumes.
In 1994, South Africa renamed Boxing Day as the Day of Goodwill in an effort to sever ties to the country’s colonial past. In Ireland, the day is called St. Stephen’s Day where there’s a tradition called “hunting the wren” involving boys fastening a fake wren to a pole and walking it through town.
In Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, the day has become a shopping holiday, much like Black Friday is in America.
Which countries observe Boxing Day?
Boxing Day is celebrated in many Commonwealth countries and former British dominions including Hong Kong, Australia, Canada, Belize, Jamaica, South Africa and Uganda. Some European countries such as Germany, Poland, Scandinavia and the Netherlands call Dec. 26 “Second Christmas Day,” where the holiday is extended for another day.
Have you ever wondered why we celebrate Boxing Day?
Various competing theories for the origins of the term boxing day circulate in popular culture, none of which are definitive. However, the Oxford English Dictionary gives the earliest attestations of the term as being from England in the 1830s, defining it as 'the first week-day after Christmas-day, observed as a holiday on which post-men, errand-boys, and servants of various kinds expected to receive a Christmas-box'.
So what is a Christmas-box? A Christmas-box is a present or gratuity given at Christmas. In Britain, it was a custom for tradespeople to collect "Christmas boxes" of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year. This is mentioned in Samuel Pepys' (member of the English Parliament) diary entry for 19 December 1663. In his diary he stated that the custom was linked to an older English tradition and the tradition was that since servants would have to wait on their masters on Christmas Day, the servants of the wealthy were allowed the next day to visit their families. The employers would give each servant a box to take home containing gifts, bonuses and sometimes leftover food.
Various historical accounts differ slightly, however, what they all had in common was that they all involved giving something to the less fortunate or needy in some sort of a box.