If you’ve ever wondered why the day after Christmas is called boxing day and if it’s somehow related to boxes or gifts then keep reading! We’ll take a deeper look to see if we can find out where Boxing day originated and if it’s still as relevant today.
Why is Boxing Day Called Boxing Day?
Its widely believed the day originated in England sometime in the middle ages and was a day off for wealthier folk to donate gifts, money, and leftover food (from their Christmas tables) to the poor. It’s likely the term ‘Boxing’ came from Alms (boxes) that were located in local churches to enable the congregation to donate and the church to distribute. These boxes are also linked to the Feast of Saint Stephen which is held on the same day as Boxing day each year.
Early records give us a more comprehensive glimpse into Boxing day during the reign of Queen Victoria. During these times the class system was in full swing and preparations ahead of Christmas could have lasted for weeks. It was customary to reward hard-working servants with a ‘box’ the day after Christmas to thank them for their hard work throughout the year. Servants also worked long hours serving the family through Christmas day so it would only be fair to give them a day off to celebrate Christmas with their own families the following day.
When is Boxing Day Celebrated?
Boxing day is always the day after Christmas which is the 26th of December. If Boxing day happens to fall over the weekend then a public holiday will normally be offered on Monday. However, if Christmas falls on Sunday, as it did in 2022, then the public holiday in lieu of Boxing day will fall on Tuesday and a public holiday will be given on Monday in lieu of Christmas.
What is The Feast of St Stephen?
The Feast of St Stephen is a Christian holiday that’s celebrated on the 26th, the same day as Boxing day. Stephen was a Christan who followed Jesus and was stoned to death in 35 AD by a group of Jews who accused him of blasphemy due to his teachings.
Stephen died as the first recorded Christian martyr, Christians celebrate his death on the 26th of December which also aligns with the history behind boxing day. This is likely because Stephen was known for giving gifts to the poor.
In many countries, St Stephen’s day is treated as the second day of Christmas.
You may also recognize the feast as being central to the theme of the Christmas carol ‘Good King Wenceslas’ which was about a king who went on a long journey to help the poor.
The first few lines of the carol
Good King Wences’las looked out,
on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about,
deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night,
tho’ the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight,
gath’ring winter fuel.
Is Boxing Day Celebrated Worldwide?
Boxing day is not celebrated worldwide and tends to be linked to countries that shared some history with the UK. The list includes all the Commonwealth countries as you’d expect. Most Muslim countries do not celebrate Boxing day as Christmas and Boxing day is a holiday based on the Christan faith. Some might argue, however, that Christmas has become more about food, family, and the exchanging of gifts than about the birth of Jesus, and in that sense, many Muslim countries are tolerant of those that wish to celebrate Christmas. In some countries, Egypt is an example, you will find shops and malls full of Christmas decor.
Whether a public holiday is given varies from country to country but you’ll find most Christian-based countries observe the tradition. Singapore recently decided to cancel Boxing day altogether and it’s no longer a public holiday.
Boxing Day in the USA
The US does not officially observe Boxing day as a public holiday. Unlike Canada, the USA gained its independence from the British Empire much earlier which likely explains why Boxing day was never adopted as a public holiday.
Boxing Day Sales
Many countries traditionally hold sales on ‘Boxing day’ to take advantage of the extra day off as people have very little else to do. As it’s the middle of Winter and the weather is bad in much of the Northern hemisphere it’s a good option for retailers – enticing people out shopping is a good way to boost sales before January hits and people get back to normality. Kids have their Christmas money burning holes in their pockets as well!
Black Friday has affected the success of Boxing day sales as many people tend to see that as the biggest shopping event of the year. In my mind, Black Friday has lost some of its momentum in recent years as it’s become a 2-week event with mediocre offers. In fact, many offers are cheaper at other times of the year – for Amazon, Prime Day normally offers better deals!
Boxing day is also known for its various sporting events held throughout the world. An example of this would be in South Africa, where you’ll find local Cricket matches being played in the different provinces. In the UK, you will find premier league matches as well as horse racing. Boxing day is also known among gamblers as a good day to have a punt.
Sport seems to be the linking factor between many nations that celebrate Boxing day.
We can draw some parallels now we know the origin of Boxing day all the way back to the middle ages – a day for Masters to reward their servants and it’s not much different nowadays for the millions of working people who are also given a day of rest on the 26th December.