What is Boxing Day?
Boxing Day is a holiday celebrated the day after Christmas Day. It originated in England in the middle of the nineteenth century under Queen Victoria and is celebrated in a number of countries like Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and other Commonwealth countries. Boxing Day is on 26 December, although the attached bank holiday or public holiday may take place either on that day or two days later.
In the liturgical calendar of Western Christianity, Boxing Day is the second day of Christmastide, and also St. Stephen’s Day. In some European countries, notably Germany, Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries, 26 December is celebrated as a Second Christmas Day.
Here’s a brief look at some theories about how the holiday got its name and how people celebrate it:
Why is it Called Boxing Day?
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 custom is linked to an older British tradition: since they 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.
In South Africa, milkmen and garbage collectors, who normally had little if any interaction with those they served, were accustomed to knocking on their doors asking for a “Christmas box”, is a small cash donation, in the week or so before and after Christmas.
The European tradition, which has long included giving money and other gifts to those who were needy and in service positions, has been dated to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown. It is believed to be in reference to the Alms Box placed in areas of worship to collect donations to the poor. Also, it may come from a custom in the late Roman/early Christian era, wherein metal boxes placed outside churches were used to collect special offerings tied to the Feast of Saint Stephen, which in the Western Church falls on the same day as Boxing Day.
When is Boxing Day?
Boxing Day is a secular holiday that is traditionally celebrated on 26 December, the day after Christmas Day. 26 December is also St. Stephen’s Day, a religious holiday.
In the UK, is a bank holiday (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland since 1871). When 26 December falls on a Saturday, the Boxing Day public holiday is moved to the substitute day, which is the following Monday. If 26 December falls on a Sunday, the substitute public holiday is the following Tuesday. As Boxing Day was traditionally the first weekday (historically Monday–Saturday) after Christmas, it cannot technically be on a Sunday as that is considered to be the day of worship. However, 26 December is nowadays generally referred to as Boxing Day, even when it falls on Sunday.
In Scotland, Boxing Day has been specified as an additional bank holiday since 1974.
In Ireland, when the island as a whole was part of the United Kingdom – the Bank Holidays Act 1871 established the feast day of St. Stephen as a non-movable public holiday on 26 December. Following partition in 1920, Northern Ireland reverted to the British name, Boxing Day.
In Australia, is a federal public holiday. The Australian state of South Australia instead observes a public holiday known as Proclamation Day on the first weekday after Christmas Day or the Christmas Day holiday.
In New Zealand, is a statutory holiday; penalty rates and lieu time are provided to employees who work on Boxing Day.
In Canada, is a federal statutory holiday. Government offices, banks and post offices/delivery are closed. In some Canadian provinces, Boxing Day is a statutory holiday that is always celebrated on 26 December. In Canadian provinces where Boxing Day was a statutory holiday, and it falls on a Saturday or Sunday, compensation days are given in the following week.
In the United States, 26 December is not observed as “Boxing Day”, per se, by the Federal Government; however, it may be converted to an extension of “Christmas Day Observed” when Christmas falls on a Sunday, thus affecting Federal offices and services, as well as banking, regular postal delivery, and trading markets. The 26th is given as a holiday to some state employees, mainly in southern states: Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas, but it is not known as Boxing Day. On 5 December 1996, Massachusetts Gov. William F. Weld declared 26 December as Boxing Day in Massachusetts, in response to the efforts of a local coalition of British citizens to “transport the English tradition to the United States”, but not as an employee holiday.
In Nigeria, 26 December is a public holiday for working people or students. When it falls on Saturday or Sunday, there is always a holiday on Monday.
Activities on Boxing Day
Boxing Day is a time to spend with family or friends, usually those not seen on Christmas Day itself. In recent times, the day has become synonymous with many sports. Horse racing is particularly popular with meets all over the country.
Boxing Day is also a time when the British show their eccentricity by taking part in all kinds of silly activities. These include bizarre traditions including swimming the icy cold English Channel, fun runs, and charity events.
Fox Hunting on Boxing Day, Until 2004, Boxing Day hunts were a traditional part of the day, but the ban on fox hunting has put an end to this in its usual sense. Hunters will still gather dressed resplendently in red hunting coats to the sound of the hunting horn. But, since it is now forbidden to chase the fox with dogs, they now follow artificially laid trails.
The New Boxing Day Sport – Shopping, Another ‘sport’ to emerge in recent years is shopping. Sadly, what was once a day of relaxation and family time sees the start of the sales. Sales used to start in January, post-New Year, but the desire to grab a bargain and for shops to off-load stock means many now begin on Boxing Day.
Boxing Day in Ireland, In Ireland, Boxing Day is also known as “St. Stephen’s Day” named after the Saint stoned to death for believing in Jesus. In Ireland on Boxing, there was once a barbaric act carried out by the so-called “Wren Boys.” These boys would dress up and go out, and stone wren birds to death then carry their catch around the town knocking on doors and asking for money, the stoning representing what had happened to St Stephen. This terrible tradition has now stopped, thank goodness, but the Wrens Boys still dress up but instead parade around town and collect money for charity.
Food and Drink on Boxing Day, With guests often popping in for a snack or tipple the food and drink on Boxing Day are more relaxed than Christmas Day. Lunch will usually be a buffet or leftovers from Christmas lunch. Baked Ham is a popular Boxing Day meat and of course, mince pies with brandy butter or a slice of Christmas cake are almost obligatory.