A brown paper package in a black backdrop with flowers
A brown paper package in a black backdrop with flowers

Boxing Day, Why, What, and Who of it All

Paul Kiernan

For those in Britain, any one of her colonies, Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand, today, December 26th, is Boxing Day. Hooray!

For those in Britain, any one of her colonies, Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand, today, December 26th, is Boxing Day. Hooray!

For pugilists, we apologize, but Boxing Day has nothing to do with two people putting on gloves, getting into the squared circle, and beating the bejesus out of each other for prize money and medical procedures.

If it’s not about boxing, what is Boxing Day, and who celebrates it and how?

These are good questions, all of which we will answer in this article. Off we go!

Boxing Day History

The 3000-foot view is this; Boxing Day is the day when servants, tradespeople, and the poor are given gifts. The idea being that these folks, the servants and tradespeople, did such a good job working for the wealthy on Christmas day that a day is set aside for them. And into that mix, the poor are showered with gifts as well.

Servants would work like mad for the wealthy, the gentry, on Christmas day, cooking, cleaning, serving, and so the following day, they got the day off, and their masters allowed them free time. They got gift boxes wrapped in pretty paper and filled with money, pressies and leftovers from the meal they had prepared the day before.

This is a way to deter the servants from poisoning the boss and his guests. They know they will be receiving the meal's leftovers, so let’s not muck it up.

Why is it Called Boxing Day?

This can be frustrating, especially for non-Brits. Why is it called Boxing Day if it’s not about weird high shorts, gloves, and blood?

The tradition goes back to when Queen Victoria was on the throne in England in the 1800s. Again this is all about the aristocracy boxing up presents of money, goods, and the like for their hard-working servants, giving them the day after Christmas off to go home and share their boxes with their families.

There is another theory on the name which involves churches and the poor. During this time, and still today in some places, churches had alms boxes. These were wooden boxes with a lock that people dropped money in, and the Sheriff of Nottingham famously stole with casual contempt in every Robin Hood film. The money in these boxes was for the poor. It is said that on the day after Christmas, the clergy would open the alms boxes and give that money to the poor in honor of Saint Stephen, who was known to have done many charitable acts.

So, in this case, Boxing Day was centered on the alms boxes being open and the relief inside being shared.

One more idea on the name of this day comes from the old carol Good King Wenceslas. The carol tells the tale of the Duke of Bohemia in the tenth century. It seems ol’ Wency was looking out at the storm that was covering the land with snow, deep, crisp, and even. He spied a poor man out gathering winter fuel, which was wood for his home fire.

Wency was so moved by this poor man struggling to find wood that he gathered food, wine, and gifts, put them in a box, and delivered them to the poor man’s front door. This is also where the idea for Doordash comes from. The box that the good Dule put all the goodies for the wood-seeking poor man is carried on through the tradition of Boxing Day or St. Stephens day.

The trouble is, no one really knows why the day is called as it is, and no one knows exactly when it all began. However, they know the day is about charity, aiding the poor, helping those in need, giving gifts, and celebrating. Those traditions have survived the centuries.

Who Celebrates

Foods on a table for a feast

This holiday is particular to the United Kingdom. Other countries celebrating Boxing Day are part of the Common Wealth - nations that used to be British colonies.

So, while we here in the United States still think the day might be about beating each other up. Residents widely observe the holiday in nations such as Canada, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. They follow the traditions and celebrate St. Stephan.

Boxing Day Today

Apart from tending to the poor and needy, Boxing Day is about connecting with family and friends that you didn’t get to see on Christmas. This can be done by meeting for meals, a drink in the pub, or relaxing at home and having people pop in for a drink or a nice cuppa.

Like any tradition that started way before the internet, the rules change over time as people adopt new traditions of family traditions become part of the zeitgeist. Here are a few Boxing Day traditions that have developed over the years.

In the past, Christmas day was a day for watching football (soccer to us in the States), and the BBC would announce a full day of Christmas matches. Some bristled at the idea of playing football on Christmas, and in 1957 the last football match on Christmas day took place. Since then, Boxing Day has become the day of football!!

Another new tradition for Boxing Day is shopping. Yup, much like the American black Friday, Boxing Day is now the day to grab up some fantastic deals on all sorts of things. Shop, shop, shop!

There is also the Boxing Day Dip! This event involves rather adventurous participants dressing in fancy clothes and taking a plunge into the freezing cold sea. The tradition continues with folks jumping into the sea in their finest formal wear, Santa hats, or whatever. No idea what this has to do with St. Stephan or the poor, but Tradition! Tradition!

The best part of Boxing Day traditions is indulging in leftovers. Eating, eating, and more eating. Alone, with friends, in homes, at pubs, in the streets, wherever you feel, the day is about eating up all the great food left over from the Christman feast. And, let’s face it, leftovers and incredible.

Leftovers are creative, weird, traditional, and sometimes absolutely terrifying. You can Google and explore, But here are a few tremendous leftover ideas. The Ultimate Christmas leftover sandwich, Boxing Day soup, and Jamie Oliver’s 9 Christmas leftover recipes.

So, fun things to try in the kitchen beyond just dumping everything onto two slices of bread and unhinging your jaw like a python to eat it.

Have we lost the Meaning

hard working hands, palms up in some foliage

So many of us search for the “true meaning” of holidays like Christmas and Boxing Day. For some, it may just be Christmas and peace. For some, it’s friends, family, or other traditions forged from years of necessity. Sometimes it can feel like we’re out of touch.

Boxing Day, a day set aside to help the poor and the less fortunate, is about something other than grabbing bargains in shops the poor and unfortunate cannot even walk into. Days watching sports and lying about the house, overeating when the people we are supposed to be thinking about are back at work.

This is not a wake-up-you sinners speech, but a moment to reflect and think about why the day is named and why the day has lasted this long. While major corporations see holidays as another day to increase the bottom line, people can keep the reality of the day alive.

So, happy Boxing Day to those who celebrate. Give some thought to the day and the why of it all. Let's share that great leftover sandwich with someone who needs it. Just stop and be thankful for what you have. Tip well, be polite, say thank you, and keep this lovely tradition alive in your hearts.