Boxing Day is observed annually on December 26th in the United Kingdom and other European countries, as well as in former British colonies including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. It became an official holiday during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), though some historians trace its origins back much further to medieval times. Today, it is mostly an extension of the Christmas holiday, that includes sporting events (read on to see if boxing is one of those sporting events) and shopping (sort of a sporting event).
While no one really knows where the name “Boxing Day” originated, many historians believe the name is derived from the church practice of opening alms boxes the day after Christmas and distributing money to the poor. Historically, British employers followed the church’s lead by giving workers and servants gifts or cash on December 26.
Others believe the “box” refers to the boxes of gifts that employers gave to their servants on the day after Christmas. In wealthy households, servants were often required to work on Christmas Day, but was given December 26th off in order to celebrate the holiday on their own.
Today, Boxing Day is the time for getting together with those you weren’t able to on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, to visit, eat leftovers, drink, and watch sports.
Football (the non-American version) and horse racing are popular sporting events that take place on Boxing Day. Fox hunting was also a sporting event for the patricians. However in 2004, it became illegal to hunt foxes with a pack of dogs. Hunters will still gather, dressed brilliantly in red hunting coats, but now they follow artificially laid trails. In other countries, Boxing Day is celebrated with…wait for it…prize-fighting events. These include former British colonies in Africa and the Caribbean.
Boxing Day has become known as a big day for shopping. Stores offer steep discounts, and people spend hours waiting in line for these huge deals. It’s basically Black Friday Part II (And as a side note; Britain and Canada both recognize Black Friday on the same day as the US, despite celebrating Thanksgiving in either a different month or not at all).
Ireland refers to December 26th as “St. Stephen’s Day”, named after the Saint recognized as the first martyr in Christian theology. Ireland also refers to this day as Wren Day, a nod to an old tradition in which poor children would stone a wren (to represent what happened to St. Stephen) and then go around town knocking on doors asking for money. While this tradition continues, a fake wren is now used, and the money collected is for charity.
Hope this sheds a little light when you see “Boxing Day” on the December 26th block on your calendar.
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