Contrary to what the name suggests, this day is not at all about boxing. It is a public holiday that is observed the day after Christmas, 26 December. It is celebrated with the same enthusiasm, cheer, and spirit as Christmas. Moreover, Boxing Day is known by many names. For example, in Ireland, it is known as St. Stephen’s Day for ‘the feast of Stephen.’ In Germany, it is referred to as ZweiteFeiertag meaning the second celebration.
On the years when 26 December falls on a weekend, Boxing Day is shifted to the next working day to give workers their deserved day off. Except in Canada, where it remains on 26 December, weekend or not.
Being an uncommon holiday, Boxing Day is one of the most misunderstood celebrations. People all over the world are confused over what exactly the Boxing Day is. If you are amongst the masses that have always wondered what this unusual holiday name entails, let’s dive into the history and understand everything about it.
Background of Boxing Day
The exact origin of Boxing Day is still unknown, but it is suggested that it dates as far back as the middle ages. The following are three common arguments that try to explain its origin.
1. Leftover Food and Gifts
Boxing Day celebrations might have begun in the mid-19th century. During Queen Victoria’s reign, rich employers used to box up leftover food and gifts for their servants and presented it to them the day after Christmas. The servants would also have the rest of the day off. Afterward, it became a tradition that servants had the day off to celebrate Christmas with their families. Because of the special Christmas boxes, the name Boxing Day originated.
2. Alms Collection Boxes
On the other hand, some people say that during the Middle Ages, the alms collection boxes placed outside churches were opened on Boxing Day. The money collected was then given away to poor and needy people. This tradition continues today, and many churches are still distributing the charity money from the boxes on Boxing Day. This practice might have contributed to its creation.
3. Money Sealed in a Box
There is also a nautical tradition that may have a relation to Boxing Day. Before setting sail on voyages, great sailing ships would carry money sealed in a box. It was supposed to bring them good luck. Upon successful return, the box would then be presented to a priest who would open it on Christmas Day and distribute the money amongst the poor the day after, i.e., on the Boxing Day.
No one knows which of these theories, the true concept behind Boxing Day is. But they all suggest one thing, this day is about giving, and we believe that is all we need to know.
Which Countries Celebrate Boxing Day?
This holiday is popular amongst the Commonwealth countries, i.e., The United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand all celebrate it enthusiastically. Though it is a public holiday in other countries, in the UK, it is classed as a bank holiday. Some European countries like the Netherlands, Poland, Germany, and Hungary celebrate it as a second Christmas Day.
Boxing Day Traditions
Boxing Day is a traditional holiday, so there are a number of traditions associated with it. Given below is a list of a few of them.
Up until 1957, Boxing Day celebrations included a full program of football matches. This was the time before TV, so people all over the UK would put on their hats and gloves and head towards the grounds to watch football.
With time, the attitude towards Christmas sports changed. So, in 1957, the last Christmas football match was played, which left people to enjoy Boxing Day as a festive fixture.
Fox hunting was also a traditional part of the Boxing Day. Hunters would dress in red coats and chase after foxes with their dogs. However, there is a ban on fox hunting since 2004, which prohibits chasing after foxes with dogs. Hunters still gather to the sound of the hunting horn, but now, they follow artificially laid trails.
- Panto Plays
It is a tradition to watch pantomime performances with kids on Boxing Day. Pantos are Christmas plays that allow the audience to participate from their seats. They perform on classic family favorites like Jack and the Beanstalk, Peter Pan, Aladdin, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, etc.
Kids enjoy them as they can shout and warn the characters. It gets them in the holiday spirit.
- Traditional dip
The Boxing Day Dip is a charity event held all around Europe on Boxing Day. This is an event for the brave and strong. People who preregister for it, dress up in fancy dresses and swim in the cold sea.
Most people may only go as far as their knees, but all the participants are appreciated for their efforts and receive a medal for their bravery.
- Wren Boys of Ireland
In Ireland, killing a wren is considered unlucky unless it’s on Boxing Day. Years ago, there was a barbaric tradition in which the boys would dress up, blacken their faces, and call themselves the Wren Boys.
They would then stone the bird to death, tie it to a pole, decorate and carry it from door to door asking for a donation. The donor would then receive a Wren feather as acknowledgment. The tradition continues, but instead of killing real birds, the boys carry a stuffed one inside a cage.
Boxing Day Today
Today, Boxing Day is spent with friends and family. Open gatherings are arranged, which are marked with lots of fun, friendship, love, and leftover food.
Since people cook way too much food for Christmas, they end up eating it throughout the entire week. The leftover food from the feast, usually turkey, is utilized in several ways for Boxing Day gatherings.
Turkey sandwiches, a full meal with vegetables, roast potatoes and all the trimmings, turkey curry, and turkey pies are amongst the popular Boxing Day foods. Some people also arrange cold ham in a buffet-style to cook, relax, and enjoy with others.
Boxing Day Sales
Boxing Day is also the day when shops and malls have their big discounted sales. Most shops will prefer to operate on reduced timing to facilitate their employees. But retailers open as early as 5 am and offer amazing deals and discounted offers to attract shoppers.
It is not uncommon to see people lining outside malls way before their opening so they can head start on the sale by being the first ones inside.
This is a great time to grab a bargain. People also head towards malls to spend the gift vouchers they received a day prior or to exchange gifts they did not like or need.
Fun Facts about Boxing Day
The holiday of Boxing Day has many fun facts attached to it. Out of which, some of the famous ones are discussed below:
- “Keep Shops Closed” Campaign
There was a campaign conducted in the UK in 2016 that asked to ban the shops opening on Boxing Day. This was intended to give shop workers a much-needed day off. The petition was filed by a baker and was aimed to end commercialism around Christmas. It received 235,000 signatures and was presented to the Prime Minister, Theresa May.
The government, however, stood by their word that they will not tell any retailer what to do – they are free to decide for themselves if they wish to remain open or not.
- Shop and Stay Malls
A mall named Eastland Shopping Centre made Boxing Day shopping easier for the people of Australia. It has opened a newly constructed 120-room hotel above the mall to facilitate Boxing Day shoppers.
They can spend Christmas night at the luxury hotel and have a head start on being the first at the stores. Or they can stay the night and relax after the long day of shopping.
- Shopping Trends
Boxing Day sales are very popular. Every year stores see a huge number of shoppers passing through their door to avail the discounts. While it has to lead them to introduce Boxing weeks, which offer the bargains in the days before and after Boxing Day, it has also shifted shoppers towards online shopping.
Now people find it easier just to avoid the crowd and use their personal connected devices to grab the deals. It also makes it easier as they don’t need to sneak away from family and festivities on either Christmas or Boxing Day.
In a Nutshell
Boxing Day may seem like a day of celebrating boxing, but in reality, it has nothing to do with the sport. It is, in fact, a sweet tradition that allows the labor and working staff to enjoy a holiday the day after Christmas.
Theories suggest that this name was either decided on the tradition of giving away boxes of food or maybe because the charity boxes were opened that day. But now, this day is celebrated like any other family holiday. It is considered as a second Christmas, and people like to enjoy it with their family and friends in different parts of the world.