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The origins of Boxing Day, the day after Christmas

Domagoj Valjak

There are numerous customs and traditions related to the celebration of Christmas, and some countries have very distinct ways of interpreting and celebrating the day of Christ’s birth.

Some traditions have remained local and are being practiced by a small number of people, while others have spread across the world. The tradition of Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, originated in the UK and spread to all countries of the Commonwealth.

Saint Stephen by Carlo Crivelli.

Saint Stephen by Carlo Crivelli.

Boxing Day is a national holiday in all countries of the Commonwealth, and if it falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the following Monday is designated as an official public holiday. The holiday is also known as St. Stephen’s Day, or the Feast Day of Saint Stephen. Saint Stephen was one of the seven original deacons of the Christian Church, and is the patron of horses, so Boxing Day is often associated with horse racing and fox hunting.

There are several theories regarding the origins of Boxing Day, and none of them are related to the fist fighting sport. Some claim the name comes from a Victorian tradition when churches across the United Kingdom displayed boxes into which the parishioners could put donations.

These donations were used for church reparation, as well as to help the orphans, the needy, and the sick.

Hunting on Boxing Day. Photo Credit

Hunting on Boxing Day. Photo Credit

Another theory is that the holiday developed because servants were required to work on Christmas Day, but on the day after Christmas they were given time off so that they could visit their families and celebrate with them. Each servant would be given a “Christmas box,” which would contain gifts, bonuses, and leftover food. Tradespeople would get Christmas boxes too, which would be given as thanks for their good service throughout the year.

This second theory is supported by some relevant historical accounts, including the famous 17th-century diary of Samuel Pepys, an administrator of the English Navy and Member of Parliament.

He mentioned the practice of giving Christmas boxes in December of 1663: “Thence by coach to my shoemaker’s and paid all there, and gave something to the boys’ box against Christmas.”

Portrait of Samuel Pepys by John Hayls.

Portrait of Samuel Pepys by John Hayes.

 

Christmas holidays in the UK and the countries of the Commonwealth are unimaginable without Boxing Day.

Read another story from us: Since 1923, The National Christmas Tree Lighting has been a highly-anticipated holiday event and a celebrated American tradition

The tradition of giving presents to tradespeople survives today, and people often give presents to tradesmen, mail carriers, doormen, porters and others who have helped them throughout the year.