Boxing Day is a bank holiday that falls on 26 December, the day after Christmas. It is celebrated by most countries in the Commonwealth, but is referred to as St. Stephen’s Day by the Irish, whereas in South Africa, it is known as the Day of Goodwill.
Traditionally, many sports activities such as horse races or football and rugby matches are organised on Boxing Day. Other typical festivities include visiting family, shopping and fox hunting. However, this latter custom is jeopardized, since in 2005, Parliament passed a bill that banned hunting with dogs in England and Wales. This implied that the traditional method of using dogs to kill the foxes had to be abandoned. Until then, the dogs had to chase the foxes in order to tire and catch them.
Another ritual is the Boxing Day Dip, with about 1,000 people plunging into the North Sea in Seaburn, Sunderland.
But what are the origins of Boxing Day? Indeed, many people do not know what or why they celebrate, or when the tradition started. Different stories about the roots of Boxing Day are going around, but we may assume that these can be traced back to charity. As a consequence, the term Boxing Day has nothing to do with boxing.
A first hypothesis asserts that during Advent, Anglican churchgoers put their monetary donations in so-called Christmas Boxes. On the day after Christmas, these boxes were broken to distribute their contents amongst the poor and needy. Hence the term Boxing Day.
A second theory claims that it was customary for aristocrats to give their servants presents wrapped in boxes on 26 December. After returning home, the servants opened their boxes and in this way, they had a second Christmas. This day became known as Boxing Day.
Unfortunately, the exact origins of Boxing Day remain unknown. Both practices mentioned above did exist, but it is not sure whether the holiday is based on either of them. Yet, few people care about the exact roots, all the more since today’s Boxing Day events have little affinity with charity. In fact, Boxing Day has evolved from a charitable day to a prolonged Christmas afternoon.
Enjoy the English atmosphere of Christmas shopping!