Saturday, December 12, 2009

Virtual Advent Tour - What is Boxing Day?

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


  1. My grandmother is British, so we celebrate Boxing Day (although obviously without the sports), too. It's definitely a holiday I enjoy!

  2. I love Boxing Day! (I'm in Canada)
    Where I live, no stores are allowed to be open, so it is a complete 'stay at home day.' After the hustle and bustle of travelling and visiting family on Christmas Day, and eating a big meal, Boxing Day is the chance to stay in PJs all day, graze eating the sweets left over, maybe baking a meat pie for supper, and playing with new toys and games.
    Great post, connecting the Commonwealth countries.

  3. Great idea for a post! I am in Canada like raidergirl and everything is closed here, too, so no boxing day sales until after the fact! :) Thanks for joining in for the Virtual Advent! Happy Holidays!

  4. Boxing day is a huge shopping day here (I'm in Montreal) though the stores all open around 1:00 pm (when I worked in retail we'd have to BE at work for 10AM or earlier to set up) and everyone rushes in to SHOP! SHOP! SHOP! until 5PM when stores close. I didn't realize in other parts of Canada stores are closed on the 26th! I not only learned something new from your post, but also from the comments!

    When I stopped working in retail I did cherish never having to set foot in a store the day after Christmas again! Although I do miss the rush leading up to the holidays and I did love my job (it was a bookstore, of course I did!).


  5. I love Boxing Day. Each year my sister and I go out and spend our Christmas gift cards on the sales. It is important to note that there are NO RETURNS on Boxing Day, or the week following it. They take too much time and people need to get to the next sale. :)

  6. Such a useful post! I've always wondered about boxing day myself, but just chalked it up to a quirky British tradition :-)

  7. Thanks for explaining about Boxing Day. As an American, I've often wondered where the tradition came from.