Boxing Day — What It Is and Why It Is Celebrated

boxing1Boxing Day occurs every year on December 26th. It’s a national holiday in the UK and Ireland. If the day after Christmas falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the following Monday is designated as the official public holiday. December 26th is also the feast day of Saint Stephen, the patron saint of horses, which is why Boxing Day has come to be associated with horse racing and fox hunting.

Why is it called Boxing Day?
According to some Boxing Day can be traced back to the Victorian era when churches often displayed a box into which their parishioners put donations.

Also in Britain, on the day after Christmas Day, servants of the wealthy were given time off to visit their families because their services were required for the Christmas Day celebrations of their employers.

They were therefore allowed the following day for their own observance of the holiday and each servant would be handed a box to take home, containing gifts, bonuses and sometimes leftover food.

It was also customary for tradespeople to collect ‘Christmas boxes’ of presents or money on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year.

boxing2Where else is the day celebrated?
Boxing Day is observed only in the United Kingdom, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and some other Commonwealth nations.

The holiday was not perpetuated by the English in the American colonies.

Irish Boxing Day
Irish Boxing Day Boxing Day is really ‘St Stephen’s Day’ in Ireland, dedicated to a saint who was stoned to death for believing in Jesus.

‘Wren Boys’ were notorious for blackening their faces stoning wrens to death. They would then carry their catch around the town knocking on doors and asking for money. This distasteful act has now stopped, but the Wren Boys still dress up and parade around town but now they collect money for charity.

Fox Hunting used to be a Boxing Day thing…
Hunts were a Boxing Day tradition but the 2004 ban on fox hunting put an end to all that. Despite this, 10 years later 250,000 people still regularly turn out to support hunting.

Certain modified forms of hunting foxes with hounds are still within the law and hundreds of Boxing Day Meets take place every year.

Shopping— the new blood sport
What was once a day of relaxation and family time has now become a holy day of consumerism. The sales used to start in January post-New Year, but the desire to grab a bargain and for shops to off-load stock means many now start on Boxing Day.

Christmas Day itself emerged as one of the most popular days for online shopping, with consumers buying products in the afternoon – often after not receiving their desired gifts.

Activities on Boxing Day
Boxing Day was a day on which families continued their Christmas celebrations by venturing out of their homes to enjoy entertainments including pantomimes, plays, variety shows, exhibitions, and sporting events such as football (soccer) matches and hunts.

In recent times, the day has become synonymous with many sports. Horse racing is particularly popular with meets all over the country. A full program of football (soccer) fixtures is also played on Boxing Day.

Boxing Day is also a time when the British show their eccentricity by taking part in all kinds of silly activities. These include bizarre traditions including swimming the icy cold English Channel, fun runs and charity events.


boxing3Samuel Pepys mentions the ‘Christmas box’ in his diary. CREDIT: JOHN ROBERTSON
Samuel Pepys mentions the practice in a diary entry from December 19th 1663: “Thence by coach to my shoemaker’s and paid all there, and gave something to the boys’ box against Christmas.” Five years later Pepys was not feeling so generous. Complaining in a December 28th entry from 1668: “Called up by drums & trumpets; these things & boxes having cost me much money this Christmas.”

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