What Is Boxing Day—and How It Got Its Name

There's a warm and wonderful tradition that the British observe on December 26. It's called Boxing Day, and this is what it's all about.

Girl holding a Christmas present in mittensHrecheniuk Oleksii/Shutterstock

For many people, Christmas can be a magical day filled with delight and indulgences. But for those down on their luck or disadvantaged, it can be a time of sorrow and disappointment. That’s why the British have set aside the day after Christmas as Boxing Day, and its purpose is to bring a bit of magic to those who could use it. But for us non-Brits, what is Boxing Day anyway?

Every December 26, going at least as far back as 1833, according to History.com, the United Kingdom and other countries that are part of the British Commonwealth—such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and India—have observed Boxing Day as an opportunity to give provide some holiday joy to those who most need it.

There are competing stories behind the name Boxing Day. One is that it refers to the giving of “Christmas boxes,” a term that originated in the 17th century to describe gifts, money, and other leftovers from Christmas that lords of the manor would give to their servants and employees for having worked on Christmas Day. Basically, Christmas Boxes were holiday bonuses for the working class.

The other is that it refers to the “alms boxes” that would traditionally appear in churches in the weeks leading up to Christmas for the purpose of collecting money from parishioners that clergy members would distribute to those in need after Christmas Day. The day after Christmas is also the feast of St. Stephen, a martyr known for his acts of charity. Find out what Christmas looked like 100 years ago.

The day is still a national holiday in many parts of the British Commonwealth, and while people still give back to the less fortunate on Boxing Day—or give tips to service people—it has also become a major shopping day on par with Black Friday in the U.S.

This year, on December 26, consider observing your own charitable Boxing Day. To borrow from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, your heart just may grow three sizes that day! Now that you’re no longer asking, “What is Boxing Day?” here are 32 more things you never knew about the holiday season.

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Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.