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The story behind Boxing Day

Your Life
Tuesday 04 December 2018
Boxing Day.

Unless you’re into your sport or love a good bargain hunt, it could be like any other day, just with a worrying amount of leftover turkey in the fridge.

But since Christmas is now over for another year, we thought we’d celebrate Boxing Day – a rather peculiarly-named day.

And we say that because not many know why it has its name.

You may have been told it’s because you get rid of all your boxes from Christmas Day. Or that it derived from boxing up all your Christmas presents once again for a later date.

But no.     
It is originally believed to come from the giving of ‘Christmas boxes’ to the poor*. But when this tradition started and ‘ended’ is not clear.

Some say it dates back to the Victorian times when wealthy individuals gave their servants time off to visit family and friends. Before their travels, they were given a box of gifts and sometimes leftover food to take with them. Others claim it’s much older – referencing even the Roman Empire.

This tradition is not the only thing tying Boxing Day to helping the poor, though.

December 26 is also St. Stephen’s Day. If you know your religious history, it is not to commemorate the early follower of Jesus – who is also St. Stephen – but rather a Swedish missionary in the 800s.

He was, however, also a follower of Jesus, and the famous carol Good King Wenceslas or The Feast of Stephen was set on St. Stephen’s Day, with the carol itself being about helping the poor.

Nevertheless, since then, many other traditions have been taken up on what is now more commonly known as Boxing Day.

In Germany, for example, horses were ridden around inside churches across the land during the St. Stephen’s Day service due to St. Stephen’s love for animals**.

Although, logistically, at least, riding a horse around a church is probably not the best way to showcase that.

Another tradition which has certainly reduced over the years is local providers – i.e. milkmen and butchers –travelling to their customers with a ‘tip box’ to collect a yearly reward.

Before World War II, this was a common sight on Boxing Day.

Now, though, this custom has become scarce, and those men and women are instead off doing what we all do on Boxing Day; visiting family, hosting Christmas dinner part two or lounging around in your new pyjamas and slippers.
* https://www.walesonline.co.uk/lifestyle/fun-stuff/called-boxing-day-traditions-gave-12371062
** https://www.whychristmas.com/customs/boxingday.shtml
Page last updated: Tuesday 14 May 2019