Boxing Day is a public holiday observed in many Commonwealth countries on the first day (other than Sunday) following Christmas Day.
In common usage, when 26 December falls on a Sunday, this is now referred to as Boxing Day despite Boxing Day officially occurring on the 27 December. From 1954 to 1993 in the United Kingdom, when 26 December was a Sunday it was referred to as Christmas Sunday, and “Boxing Day” in popular usage referred to the 27th, but this practice had fallen out of use by the time of the next occurrence in 1999.
Boxing Day is often celebrated by giving gifts and donations to the poor and needy.
In some Commonwealth countries, fixed-date holidays falling on Saturday or Sunday are often observed on the next weekday, so if Boxing Day falls on a Saturday then Monday 28th December is a public holiday; in the UK and Australia this is accomplished by Royal Proclamation.
If Christmas Day falls on a Saturday itself then the Boxing Day holiday is automatically on the following Monday, and no Royal Proclamation is required. In such a circumstance, a ‘substitute bank holiday in lieu of Christmas Day’ is declared for Tuesday 28th December, this being the next available working day – thus the Boxing Day holiday occurs before the substitute Christmas holiday.
Although the same legislation (Bank Holidays Act 1871) originally established the Bank Holidays throughout the British Isles, the holiday after Christmas was defined as Boxing Day in England and Wales and Northern Ireland and St Stephen’s Day for The Republic Of Ireland (and now by a few people in Northern Ireland). St Stephen’s Day is fixed as the 26 December.
There is great dispute over the true origins of Boxing Day. The more common stories include:
- In feudal times, Christmas was a reason for a gathering of extended families. All the serfs would gather their families in the manor of their lord, which made it easier for the lord of the estate to hand out annual stipends to the serfs. After all the Christmas parties on December 26th, the lord of the estate would give practical goods such as cloth, grains, and tools to the serfs who lived on his land. Each family would get a box full of such goods the day after Christmas. Under this explanation, there was nothing voluntary about this transaction; the lord of the manor was obliged to supply these goods. Because of the boxes being given out, the day was called Boxing Day.
- In Britain many years ago, it was common practice for the servants to carry boxes to their employers when they arrived for their day’s work on the day after Christmas. Their employers would then put coins in the boxes as special end-of-year gifts. This can be compared with the modern day concept of Christmas bonuses. The servants carried boxes for the coins, hence the name Boxing Day.
- In churches, it was traditional to open the church’s donation box on Christmas Day, and the money in the donation box was to be distributed to the poorer or lower class citizens on the next day. In this case, the “box” in “Boxing Day” comes from that one gigantic lockbox in which the donations were left.
- In Britain because many servants had to work for their employers on Christmas Day they would instead open their presents (i.e., boxes) the next day, which therefore became known as Boxing Day.
- Boxing Day was the day when the wren, the king of birds was captured and put in a box and introduced to each household in the village when he would be asked for a successful year and a good harvest. See Frazer’s Golden Bough.
- Evidence can also be found in Wassail songs such as:
- Where are you going ? said Milder to Malder,
- Oh where are you going ? said Fessel to Foe,
- I’m going to hunt the cutty wren said Milder to Malder,
- I’m going to hunt the cutty wren said John the Rednose.
- And what will you do wi’ it ? said Milder to Malder,
- And what will you do wi’ it ? said Fessel to Foe,
- I’ll put it in a box said Milder to Malder,
- I’ll put it in a box said John the Rednose.
Boxing Day in the UK is traditionally a day for sporting activity, originally fox hunting, but in modern times football and horseracing.
In Canada, and indeed any other country that celebrates it, Boxing Day (in French, lendemain de Noël, “day after Christmas”) is also observed as a public holiday, and is a day when stores sell their excess Christmas inventory at significantly reduced prices. Boxing Day has become so important for retailers that they often extend it into a “Boxing Week”. This occurs similarly in Australia and New Zealand.
In Australia, a test match starting on December 26th is called the Boxing Day Test Match, and is played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground before the largest crowd of the summer.
Boxing Day is a holiday of peculiarly British origin, but in most years it falls on the same day as the Feast of St. Stephen (St. Stephen’s Day – 26th December).
In Austria, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Sweden, the 26th is known as the Second day of Christmas (“der zweite Weihnachtsfeiertag” in Germany, Annandag Jul — “the day after Christmas” — in Sweden, “Tweede Kerstdag” — “Second Christmasday” — in the Netherlands, “Andre Juledag” – “Second Christmasday” – in Norway.) and is also a public holiday.
In Ireland, the 26th December is known as St Stephen’s Day, or Wren’s Day; in Austria it is called Stefanitag,in Italy Santo Stefano, and in Finland tapaninpäivä which also mean “St. Stephen’s Day”; in Wales, it is known as Gŵyl San Steffan (St. Stephen’s Holiday). In Catalonia, this day is known as Sant Esteve, Catalan for St. Stephen. A practice known as Hunt the Wren is still practiced by some in the Isle of Man, where people thrash out wrens from hedgerows. Traditionally they were killed and their feathers presented to households for good luck. In Germany the days between Christmas and new year are called “the days between the years” (zwischen den Jahren) and becoming more and more important for retailers to clear the unsold Christmas goods.
In Canada, Boxing Day is observed as a holiday, except for those in the retail business. Boxing Day and the days immediately following are when many retail stores sell their Christmas and retired model products by holding clearance sales. Some shoppers will line up for hours at night (sometimes before midnight and after midnight on December 26th) for retailers to open their doors. Retailers often open their stores earlier than usual, such as 6 or 7 am. Some retail companies internally refer to the sales week after Christmas as the “thirteenth month.”
Boxing Day, 2005, was the single-most highest economic transaction day ever in the history of Canadian commerce (according to Visa).
In the #1009 episode of M*A*S*H, “‘Twas the Day After Christmas”, they celebrate Boxing Day by having the officers switch roles with the enlisted personnel.
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