What is Boxing Day?
Boxing Day is held every December 26th in many countries associated with the British empire. It started as a day to give gifts to the household staff of Britain’s upper classes but has morphed into a sort of shopping holiday of its own. In fact, its one of the most popular days to return Christmas gifts to the stores.
Boxing Day History
The day after Christmas, Boxing Day, is celebrated in the United Kingdom, Austria, 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 holiday 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.
Boxing Day timeline
Dickens wrote Boxing Day into the “Pickwick Papers”
The English novelist, Charles Dickens, references Boxing Day in his first novel, “The Pickwick Papers,” which was published as a monthly serial until 1837.
The Oxford English Dictionary is first to reference Boxing Day
In 1833, the Oxford English Dictionary, an acknowledged guardian of the correct use of the English language, makes the first reference to Boxing Day in print.
- The Middle Ages
Wren's Day a Precursor to Boxing Day
Practiced throughout Ireland, Wren Day tradition required participants to go door to door looking for alms in exchange for a wren’s feather — with the tradition of “hunting the wren” actually going back to Celtic times.
- AD 36
Saint Stephen dies for his faith
Saint Stephen Day recalls the patron saint, based in Jerusalem, who helped the poor but was stoned to death, making him the first Christian martyr for the faith.
Boxing Day Traditions
A Day off
Boxing Day is a public holiday (meaning a paid day off) in the UK, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Jamaica.
Big sales jump off on Boxing Day a la Black Friday. Friends and family gather to eat together and to attend sporting events like horse racing and soccer. People also attend the theatre for “Pantomimes,” which are Christmas plays based on children’s fairy tales with characters like Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty.
Boxing Day in Jamaica comes with a rasta vibe. People party at the beach and attend Caribbean-flavored pantomimes usually performed in a Jamaican patois. Jamaicans also go to actual boxing matches on Boxing Day!
Boxing Day Statistics
9% decrease in sales
Although Boxing Day has traditionally been a big shopping day in the UK and wherever else the day is celebrated, in 2018, Boxing Day morning sales fell by 9% compared to Black Friday sales. Apparently, British people actually prefer to shop at brick and mortar stores rather than purchasing goods online.
15% Boxing Day Bounce in 2017
In 2017, retailers in London’s fashionable West End profited from a “Boxing Day Bounce” with 15% more foot traffic over the previous year.
43% off online
In 2018, online discounts were reported at 43%, the largest Boxing Day cuts reported at the time.
300,000 people lost
In 2004, a massive tsunami killed over 300,000 people on Boxing Day in Indonesia making the occurrence one of the largest-recorded natural disasters.
Boxing Day FAQs
What is the point of Boxing Day?
Boxing Day refers to the gift boxes filled with trinkets or money that tradespeople, servants, messenger boys, postmen and others in the middle or lower classes received from the wealthy as a show of appreciation for their work at Christmas time and the rest of the year.
Is Boxing Day a bank holiday?
Yes. Boxing Day is a public or bank holiday with time off for most non-essential personnel. If Boxing Day lands on a weekend, the following Monday is a bank holiday.
Is there public transportation on Boxing Day?
There is usually not much public transportation in the UK from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day. Some buses may operate during the day but not at night. Taxis and other chartered transportation may be available but more expensive on Boxing Day.
Boxing Day Activities
If you chose the organization you love an volunteer time there. Donate blood to the local blood bank. Make a donation online to your favorite charity or organization, the spirit of giving doesn’t have to be only in the material realm.
Go out on a hike or go play sports
Get out and enjoy nature, while all your compatriots are shopping away get some fresh air, enjoy time with your sports teammates or friends. So grab your baseball gloves, your skateboards, your hiking boots and those footballs and basketballs and get outside!
Throw a Boxing Day party!
Invite your friends and throw a party after Christmas! Don’t let the spirit die the next day. Make it either a purchased gift holiday or a re-gifting party for all those weird pairs of socks that Grandma gave you…
Why We Love Boxing Day
Boxing Day is another great excuse to give gifts to people
Everyone loves a gift. Show your family and friends how much you care about them and that it's not just limited to Christmas!
Boxing day is an international day
Boxing Day is observed only in the United Kingdom, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and some other Commonwealth nations. So join in our fellow nations and party it up this Boxing Day.
Boxing day has a charity based bend
For boxing day in the UK Wrenboys dress up and visit houses collecting money for charities and organizations. What other holidays have such a caring and outward facing bend. So for this Boxing day donate to your favorite one!