What is Boxing Day all about? Celebrated the 26th of December, Boxing Day began in the United Kingdom, and is observed in countries previously or currently a part of the British Empire. Now a bank holiday, when Boxing Day falls on a Sunday, it is observed the following Monday.
What is Boxing Day?
Boxing Day has been observed since the 17th Century in Great Britain. There are several different theories about how the name, “Boxing Day,” came about.
The Alms Box Theory
One theory rests on the European tradition of giving money and gifts to the needy, as well as those in service positions, near the Christmas holiday. This theory believes the “box” referenced in “Boxing Day,” was the Alms Box. In the middle ages, Alms Boxes were placed in areas of worship. They were set out to collect donations to give to the poor. The Alms Box was opened, and the proceeds distributed, the day after Christmas – thus, “Boxing Day.”
The Roman/Christian Theory
A second theory surrounding the origins of Boxing Day has a similar theme. In the early Christian era, which overlaps with the late Roman era, metal boxes were put in churches. These metal boxes were designed to hold special offerings collected by the churches. These special offerings were tied historically to the Feast of Saint Stephen. In the Western Church, Saint Stephen’s Day falls on the day after Christmas. St. Stephen is well known for his work with the poor. He is also widely believed to be the first person martyred for his Christian faith.
The “Christmas Box” Theory
The third theory about the origins of Boxing Day has to do with the upper class living in Great Britain during the 17th century. At the time, the wealthy didn’t give their servants the day off on Christmas. Instead, servants were expected to work Christmas Day. They were given the following day, December 26th, off. Employers gave their servants a “Christmas Box,” which customarily contained money, gifts, and occasionally left-over food from the Christmas feast. English servants spent the day with their families.
Traditional Boxing Day Celebration
Traditionally, Boxing Day was a day designed to be spent with friends and extended family. Customarily, these visits were for those who were not seen on Christmas Day. While both the servant class and the wealthy spent the day with family, the upper crust often celebrated the day with a fox hunt. In 2004, fox hunting was banned, but in 2017, fox hunting returned to England, with some restrictions.
Boxing Day as a Shopping Day
In recent years, Boxing Day has morphed into something akin to Black Friday in the United States, becoming a major shopping holiday. Retailers offer doorbuster deals and sell loss leaders to entice shoppers to their stores. And like Black Friday, the media feeds the frenzy by reporting on the lines of people waiting for stores to open, and interviewing shoppers as they leave with their purchases.
In some areas of Canada, retailers are prohibited from opening on Boxing Day. Consequently, in those cities, the 27th takes on the Black Friday role.
Other Celebrations the Day after Christmas
In the United States, some states observe the day after Christmas as a state holiday, although they do not refer to it as Boxing Day. In other European countries, including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, and the Nordic countries, December 26th is observed as a second Christmas Day, often referred to as the Second Day of Christmastide.