Boxing Day, holiday, UK

What’s The Deal With Boxing Day?

By David Malcolm

One of the worst things about Christmas is how anyone can make sense of the six days between Christmas and New Year. After the presents are unwrapped and the turkey is eaten up, it’s simply a matter of counting down the hours until we can watch some fireworks and sing about old land signs to ring in the New Year.

And then there’s Boxing Day. Contrary to popular belief, it has nothing to do with fighting or collecting cardboard boxes. It’s a curious little holiday that falls on December 26th and one which the UK, and those who used to be part of the British Empire, celebrate in a different way.

December 26th is normally celebrated in Europe as Saint Stephens Day but in the UK, it’s more of a secular holiday with a slightly different meaning. Details as to the holiday’s origin are unclear and contradictory, but the most commonly held theory is that it was a holiday from the 17th and 18th century where tradesmen, servants, and postmen would carry ‘Christmas boxes’ to collect money or gifts as a thank-you for their good service.

Over time, the practice began to die out but the name ‘Boxing Day’ stuck and is considered to be the second coming of Christmas in terms of sales in shops. Walk along any shopping center in Britain and if you survive the mobs of shoppers, you’ll find that Boxing Day is a time when people will be searching for bargains after Christmas. The popularity of Black Friday and online shopping has seen sales drop but for now, the tradition is holding strong to the dismay of retail stores and weary shoppers everywhere.

It is also special in that it is a public holiday and one of the few bank holidays in the UK calendar. From Scotland to South Africa, from Australia to Canada, Boxing Day is considered to be a public holiday, a hangover from the holiday’s origins of tradesmen and servants taking a break and getting gifts.

And finally, we reach one of the most important parts of the holiday: sport. It is considered a tradition for rugby and football (soccer) leagues to provide a full programme of football and rugby matches for the full day. Fans of horse racing will enjoy the King Goerge VI Chase, the second most prestigious race in the UK, while the more traditional horse riders will use Boxing Day to go on fox hunts at the ‘meets’. Although fox hunting has been banned in the UK, the so-called ‘bloodless hunting’ takes place where the hounds and their riders charge over miles of the great British countryside.

So, the next time December 26th rolls around, take a cue from the Brits and enjoy the post-Christmas haze in style!

I'm a historian based in the UK who likes jumping from one thought to next. I love to learn new things and explore other ideas.

Share Your Thoughts?