Boxing Day is traditionally the day following Christmas Day, when servants and tradesmen would receive gifts, known as a ‘Christmas box’, from their bosses or employers. Boxing Day is the bank holiday that takes place on 26 December. It is observed in the United Kingdom, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and some other Commonwealth nations.
In South Africa, Boxing Day was renamed Day of Goodwill in 1994. In Ireland, the day is known as St. Stephen’s Day or the Day of the Wren. In many European countries, including notably Germany, Poland, Scandinavia and the Netherlands, today is celebrated as the Second Christmas Day.
There are several competing theories about the exact history of the term ‘Boxing Day’. The European tradition, which has long included giving money and other gifts to those who were needy and in service positions, has been dated to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown. It is believed to be in reference to the Alms Box placed in places of worship in order to collect donations to the poor. In Britain, it was a custom for tradesmen to collect ‘Christmas boxes’ of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year. This is mentioned in Samuel Pepys’ diary entry for 19 December 1663.
This custom is also linked to an older English tradition: since they would have to wait on their masters on Christmas Day, the servants of the wealthy were allowed the next day to visit their families. The employers would give each servant a box to take home containing gifts and bonuses, and sometimes leftover food.
Happy Boxing Day!