Few Americans have any idea that there is even such a thing as Boxing Day, let alone why the holiday, which celebrated in places such as Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, is a statutory holiday.
Despite its name, Boxing Day, has nothing to do with pugilistic competition. Nor is it a day for people to return unwanted Christmas presents or clear the house of empty boxes.
It is traditionally held on December 26th, though this can vary between countries some celebrating following Monday if December 26 falls on a Saturday or Sunday. Boxing day became a celebrated holiday in the middle of the nineteenth century, under Queen Victoria.
There are several claims to the origin of Boxing Day all of which might be correct in some form or other.
Some historians say on the day after Christmas, members of the merchant class would give boxes containing food and fruit, clothing, and/or money to trades people and servants. The gifts were an expression of gratitude much like when people receive bonuses, from their employer, for a job well done, today. These gifts, given in boxes, gave the holiday its name, "Boxing Day". This theory goes a far back as Anglo-Saxon times when seasonal gifts were given to slaves.
Another theory is that the boxes placed in churches where parishioners deposited coins for the poor were opened and the contents distributed on December 26, which is also the Feast of St. Stephen. One of the seven original deacons of the Christian Church, who were ordained by the Apostles to care for widows and the poor.
This is remarked about in the Christmas Carol, “Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen”, where gifts of "flesh (meat), wine and wood” are made to a poor man struggling through the snow.
Today, Boxing Day is spent with family and friends with lots of fun and food, more relaxed than Christmas day with all the rush to cook Christmas dinner etc.
Like "Black Friday" in the USA it is also a major shopping day allowing the spending of those gift cards, vouchers and money given to them for Christmas.
Boxing day is also one of the most important sporting days in England, it is traditional Soccer and Rugby traditionally matches to be played against local rivals. Something originally done to avoid teams and their fans having to travel a long distance to an away game on the day after Christmas Day.
Perhaps this association with sport on December 26th lead to the myth of Boxing Day is associated with boxing.
The day is also a major day in the horse racing calendar, with amongst many other race meetings the King George VI Chase at Kempton racecourse in Surrey, taking place, the second most prestigious chase in England, after the Cheltenham Gold Cup. People follow horses year after year during these Boxing Day events such as the famous gray horse "Desert Orchid" or "Dessie" as he was known who won the race four years running.
Many family's watch the sport and racing on television, sharing friendly bets and eating cold meat and pickle sandwiches.
For myself like many other people in the UK and around the world, it is "fun" day of the Christmas holidays, a day to share with those close to you, without the hassle of Christmas Day.
BARRY EVA (Storyheart)
Author of Young Adult Romance/Fiction book