26 Dec Why is Boxing Day called Boxing Day?

Happy Boxing Day word abstract in vintage letterpress wood type with a digital painting effect

That all too curious question – why is Boxing Day called Boxing Day? It’s obviously nothing to do with the sport of boxing. Although plenty of families thrown together over the festive season might feel like punching each other by December 26th! The most widely accepted theory about the origins of Boxing Day centres around the Christmas activities of the servants of wealthy families.

Christmas bonus in a Box

In the past, servants of these families were required to work on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. They were required to cater for the festive celebrations of their employers.

However, they would then have December 26th as a day off. They would also be given a box to take home to their family, a Christmas tradition which dates back to Medieval times. The box would usually contain Christmas gifts and a cash bonus, in recognition of their hard work throughout the year. They might also be given any food left over from the celebrations. Hence why Boxing Day is called Boxing Day!

‘Christmas boxes’

It was also customary for tradespeople to be given what became known as ‘Christmas boxes’, containing presents or money. These ‘Christmas boxes’ were handed out on the first weekday after Christmas Day as thanks for good service throughout the year. The great diarist Samuel Pepys mentions the practice in the year, 1663.’

A variation on this idea is that boxes were traditionally placed in churches on Christmas Day. These boxes were intended to collect money for the poor of the parish. These would then be opened and distributed on December 26th – ergo, why Boxing Day is called Boxing Day! Similarly, great sailing ships would carry a sealed box containing money, for good luck. If and when the ship returned safely, the box would be opened at Christmas Day service. The priest would then distribute the contents to the poor.

Boxing Day around the globe

The holiday is only celebrated in the United Kingdom, Canada, Hong Kong,  and some other  Commonwealth nations. It was not taken over the Atlantic by the English settlers of the American colonies. However, Boxing Day in South Africa was renamed as ‘The Day of Goodwill’ in 1994, to better redefine the purpose of the day.

Boxing Day is also the feast day of St Stephen, the patron saint of horses. This is why Boxing Day is linked to horse racing and fox hunting.

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