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.
When is Boxing Day 2023?
When Christmas Day is over, the celebration continues on Boxing Day on December 26. The name was first used in 1833, but the exact origin has never been determined. Theories behind ‘Boxing’ Day include references to Christmas gifts, charity drives, or a nautical tradition.
History of Boxing Day
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.
Boxing Day timeline
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.
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.
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 English novelist - Charles Dickens, references Boxing Day in his first novel, “The Pickwick Papers,” which was published as a monthly serial until 1837.
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 By Numbers
9% – The reduction in sales on Boxing Day 2018.
15% – The percentage of retailers in London who profited from a ‘Boxing Day Bounce.’
43% – The largest recorded online discounts on Boxing Day, in 2018.
1973 – The year the horror masterpiece ‘The Exorcist’ released on Boxing Day,
4 – The number of goals scored by Southampton against Arsenal on Boxing Day in 2015.
1994- The year when South Africa changed ‘Boxing Day’ to ‘The Day of Goodwill.’
1.5 – Times the salary that is given to employees in Australia who work on Boxing Day,
69% – The percentage of shoppers who prefer buying online on Boxing Day
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…
5 Facts About Boxing Day
One of nine public holidays in Ireland.
Boxing Day is popularly known as ‘Saint Stephen's Day’ or ‘Feast of Saint Stephen’ in Ireland.
To Kill a Wren Bird.
The hunting of wren birds was considered unlucky on any day except Boxing Day. It used to be a popular event in England in the past.
In the United Kingdom, Premier League Football has a full day dedicated to games on Boxing Day.
Good luck for Sailors.
During the Age of Exploration, sailors would collect money in a box for good luck, which would be then distributed to the poor on Boxing Day by a priest.
Taking it literally
There are many countries around the world who, to this day, think that Boxing Day refers to the sport.
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!
Boxing Day dates