The day after Christmas, Boxing Day is celebrated in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. But let’s clear up something first — Boxing Day is not about pummeling opponents. This unique holiday has its roots in gift-giving on one hand and classism on the other. Here’s what we know about Boxing Day’s origins.
The entire British class system worked to make Christmas Day a big deal for wealthy elites. They splurged on Christmas dinners of geese, turkey, and other fowl cooked by kitchen staff. Household servants worked hard making all the holiday preparations during the years well before the conveniences and technological advances of the Industrial Revolution. Messenger boys regularly ran errands and postmen delivered mail and packages year-round.
Boxing Day, on December 26, gave the wealthy a chance to repay their servants and tradespeople with paid time off and small gift boxes filled with trinkets or coins as a show of appreciation for their service during the holidays and throughout the year. Servants and tradespeople also prepared gift boxes for their own families, too.
Some historians attribute Boxing Day to the small boxes of alms placed near the church doors requesting donations to help the poor during Advent. On the day after Christmas, members of the church clergy would distribute the donations to needy citizens throughout the community. December 26 was chosen for these charitable acts because the day was dedicated to St. Stephen, a patron saint known for good works and his status as the first Christian martyr.
Ironically, during modern times, Boxing Day is synonymous with holiday shopping, good times, and sports. Rather than boxing, soccer and cricket matches are the sports of choice that bring everyone together for more holiday fun. In the UK, sports are often played on Boxing Day, especially football matches and horse racing. There is a cricket test match on Boxing Day each year in Australia, where they play against another country. Fox hunts were also a big part of Boxing Day traditions, but in 2004, the activity was banned in the UK. Hunters still gather, dressed in their finest coats, but now follow designated artificial trails.
Traditionally, the holiday was celebrated by giving to the needy and less fortunate, but over time, Boxing Day has evolved and been commodified in several different ways. Boxing Day is also now a time of year when big sales are offered by shops traditionally after Christmas in the UK – similar to Black Friday in the USA. Sales and revenue are so heavy now in countries that celebrate Boxing Day that now some retailers advertise ‘Boxing Week.’ These worldwide sales feature deals and discounts lasting until the end of the month.