We delve into the past to find out more about how this tradition came into being, and the ways people continue to celebrate it today.
One widely accepted theory is that the name ‘Boxing Day’ was established by the Victorians who were famously big on Christmas.
Some believe Boxing Day was coined when the rich started the tradition of giving boxes of gifts to the poor for Christmas during this period. Servants were handed gift boxes by their bosses on the day after Christmas and were allowed to take the day off work to spend with their families.
Boxing Day officially became a bank holiday in 1871. Today many UK institutions such as schools and banks continue in this vein, following the Victorian tradition of closing up for the day and giving their workers time off. Most shops and other companies follow suit, with many paying overtime.
It has also been suggested that Boxing Day gets its name from the boxes that churches would use to collect and distribute money to those in poverty on the 26th as an act of charity.
Another theory is that it comes from the superstition where sailors would keep a sealed box of money on their ship for good luck. At the end of a successful journey, they would give the box to a priest for the benefit of the poor at Christmas.
When did Boxing Day start?
The name may have been coined by the Victorians, but the idea of Boxing Day goes back much further, perhaps even to the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages. Some historians believe that back in the Middles Ages churches collected money in boxes for the poor, in honour of St. Stephen. The money was given out the day after Christmas. However, there is some discussion about when this tradition actually began.
What day is Boxing Day?
Most people think that this national bank holiday is simply the day after Christmas Day, but it’s a little more complicated than that. If the 26th December falls on a weekend, it is still known as Boxing Day, but the bank holiday is observed the following week.
For example, if it’s a Saturday then the bank holiday will be observed the following Monday. If Christmas Day is on a Saturday, then the following Monday and Tuesday are bank holidays. (Sunday being Boxing Day in this scenario). This means the bank holiday is always on top of your normal weekend.
How is Boxing Day celebrated in the UK?
Sport is largely involved in Boxing Day celebrations in the UK. No football matches are played on Christmas Day, but Boxing Day makes up for it with fixtures to round off the festivities. Horse racing is also a popular watch. In previous times, fox hunting was the sport of choice for the upper classes, before it was outlawed in 2004.
Another tradition is the Boxing Day sales. Perhaps there is less hype surrounding this now that Black Friday has come on the scene, but masses of people are still seen queuing outside shops in the early hours to get in first and grab the best discounts. All the unsold Christmas decorations and gift sets go for a fraction of the price they were days beforehand.
If we’re not stocking up in the sales, Brits can often be found out visiting relatives, walking off Christmas dinner, working their way through Christmas films or eating turkey sandwiches with the leftovers on Boxing Day.
Who else celebrates Boxing Day?
The idea of Boxing Day has spread from the UK to some other European countries, like Germany, Poland, Hungary and The Netherlands, where it is called ‘second Christmas Day’. In Ireland, they call the 26th December St. Stephen’s Day.
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Disclaimer: All information and links are correct at the time of publishing.