Also known as
Saint Stephen's Day
Second Christmas Day
annually on December 26th
Boxing Day takes place the day after Christmas and is primarily observed in the United Kingdom, where it started, as well as in countries that were once part of the British crown. There are a few possible theories as to how it got started, but its exact origin is unclear.
One theory says it was inspired by Christmas boxes. In seventeenth-century Great Britain, boxes holding a present or gratuity were given to tradesman and workers in service industries for their previous year's work. This went back to an even earlier tradition where servants would wait on and serve their rich masters on Christmas Day and would visit and celebrate with their own families on the day after Christmas. Their rich masters would sometimes give them a box with leftover food, a bonus, or another type of gift.
The day may have also stemmed from alms boxes that were put in Anglican churches on Christmas Day or during Advent and opened on the day after Christmas. These boxes collected money for the poor. Similarly, boxes were put outside of churches to collect money on Saint Stephen's Day, which is held the day after Christmas. The events in the song "Good King Wenceslas" take place on Saint Stephen's Day. The song recounts a story of King Wenceslas, a Bohemian king of the tenth century, bringing food and wine to a poor man. There is one other possible source for the beginning of the day. Ships once set sail containing a box of money for good luck. If the trip was a success, the box would be given to a priest, and he would open it on Christmas and give its contents to the poor.
Boxing Day has been a bank holiday in England, Wales, North Ireland, and Canada since 1871. It is celebrated in Australia, New Zealand, Trinidad and Tobago, and Nigeria. It is celebrated in Hong Kong, where the United Kingdom held sovereignty until 1997. In Ireland and in parts of Spain, it is known as Saint Stephen's Day. It is celebrated as Second Christmas Day in some European countries, such as Poland, Hungary, Germany, and the Netherlands; it is celebrated as such in Scandinavia as well. Boxing Day is generally not celebrated in the United States.
In some countries where it is celebrated as a bank holiday or public holiday, it is observed a day or two after December 26. If December 26 takes place on a Saturday, it may be observed the following Monday. If December 26 is on a Sunday, it may be observed on the following Tuesday. This is not always the case, however, as it is often observed on a Sunday if it falls on a Sunday.
Boxing Day is a day of the gathering of family and friends. Leftovers from Christmas are commonly eaten. Popular foods include baked ham, mince pies, Christmas cakes, and other desserts. In many countries of celebration, it is a shopping day similar to Black Friday. Sales take place and many retailers run them the whole week. Although, in some places, such as in parts of Canada, stores aren't allowed to be open, in order to give families time to be together instead.
Sports are an important part of Boxing Day. In the United Kingdom, the top football (soccer) leagues of England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland play games. Lower leagues play games as well, and rugby leagues also hold matches. In various countries, events of other sports, such as cricket, horse racing, yacht racing, hockey, and boxing are often held to celebrate the day. Fun runs and swims in the cold English Channel take place. Fox hunting meets have been held for hundreds of years. A law passed in 2004, which went into effect the following year, banned the use of dogs to attack animals during hunts. But hunters have still used their dogs to chase artificial scents on the day, and have still gone on hunts where dogs are used to flush out foxes, but not to attack them.
How to Observe Boxing Day
The best way to celebrate the day is to take part in festivities in a country where Boxing Day is a bank holiday or public holiday. Watch some soccer, rugby, or cricket games, or go on a traditional fox hunt. If you can't be in a country where these events are taking place, you could still get together with family and friends and eat leftovers from Christmas, or make some foods traditionally eaten on Boxing Day. You could also go shopping, as this is another important part of the day in many countries.