Boxing Day is a secular holiday celebrated the day after Christmas Day. It originated in the United Kingdom and is celebrated in a number of countries that previously formed part of the British Empire. Boxing Day is on 26 December, although the attached bank holiday or public holiday may take place either on that day or two days later.
In some European countries, such as Romania, Hungary, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia, 26 December is celebrated as a Second Christmas Day.
There are competing theories for the origins of the term, none of which are definitive. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the earliest attestations from Britain in the 1830s, defining it as "the first week-day after Christmas-day, observed as a holiday on which post-men, errand-boys, and servants of various kinds expect to receive a Christmas-box".The term "Christmas-box" dates back to the 17th century, and among other things meant:
A present or gratuity given at Christmas: in Great Britain, usually confined to gratuities given to those who are supposed to have a vague claim upon the donor for services rendered to him as one of the general public by whom they are employed and paid, or as a customer of their legal employer; the undefined theory being that as they have done offices for this person, for which he has not directly paid them, some direct acknowledgement is becoming at Christmas.
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 linked to an older British 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, bonuses, and sometimes leftover food.
In South Africa (a former British commonwealth realm) as recently as the 1980s, milkmen and garbage collectors, who normally had little if any interaction with those they served, were accustomed to knock on their doors asking for a "Christmas box", being a small cash donation, in the week or so before and after Christmas.
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 areas of worship to collect donations to the poor. Also, it may come from a custom in the late Roman/early Christian era, wherein metal boxes placed outside churches were used to collect special offerings tied to the Feast of Saint Stephen, which in the Western Church falls on the same day as Boxing Day.
Boxing Day is a secular holiday that is traditionally celebrated on 26 December, the day after Christmas Day. 26 December is also Saint Stephen's Day, a religious holiday.
Status by country
In the UK, Boxing Day is a bank holiday (in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland since 1871). When 26 December falls on a Saturday, the Boxing Day public holiday is moved to the following Monday. If 26 December falls on a Sunday, the substitute public holiday is the following Tuesday. As Boxing Day was traditionally the first weekday (historically Monday–Saturday) after Christmas, it cannot technically be on a Sunday as that is considered to be the day of worship. However, 26 December is nowadays generally referred to as Boxing Day, even when it falls on a Sunday.
In Scotland, Boxing Day has been specified as an additional bank holiday since 1974, by Royal Proclamation under the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971.In Ireland – when the island as a whole was part of the United Kingdom – the Bank Holidays Act 1871 established the feast day of Saint Stephen as a non-movable public holiday on 26 December. Following partition in 1920, Northern Ireland reverted to the British name, Boxing Day.
In Hong Kong, despite the transfer of sovereignty from the UK to China in 1997, Boxing Day continues to be a public holiday. Government offices, banks, post offices and most other offices are closed on Boxing Day. If it falls on a Sunday, a compensation day is given on the immediate next weekday.
In Australia, Boxing Day is a public holiday in all jurisdictions except the Australian state of South Australia where a public holiday known as Proclamation Day is celebrated on the first weekday after Christmas Day or the Christmas Day holiday.In New Zealand, Boxing Day is a statutory holiday; on these holidays, 1.5x salary and a lieu day is provided to employees who work.In Canada, Boxing Day is a federal statutory holiday. Government offices, banks and post offices/delivery are closed. In some Canadian provinces, Boxing Day is a statutory holiday that is always celebrated on 26 December. In Canadian provinces where Boxing Day is a statutory holiday and it falls on a Saturday or Sunday, compensation days are given in the following week.While not generally observed in the United States, on 5 December 1996, Massachusetts Gov. William F. Weld declared 26 December as Boxing Day in Massachusetts in response to the efforts of a local coalition of British citizens to "transport the English tradition to the United States", but not as an employee holiday.In Nigeria, Boxing Day is a public holiday for working people and students. When it falls on a Saturday or Sunday, there is always a holiday on Monday.In Trinidad and Tobago, Boxing Day is a public holiday.
In Singapore, Boxing Day was a public holiday for working people and students; when it fell on a Saturday or Sunday, there was a holiday on Monday. However, in recent years this tradition has ceased in Singapore.
In the British overseas territory of Bermuda, the costumed Gombey dancers perform throughout the mid-Atlantic island on Boxing Day, a tradition believed to date back to the 18th century when slaves were permitted to gather at Christmastime.
In the UK, Canada, Australia, Trinidad and Tobago, and New Zealand, Boxing Day is primarily known as a shopping holiday, much like Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) in the United States. Boxing Day sales are common and shops often allow dramatic price reductions. For many merchants, Boxing Day has become the day of the year with the greatest revenue. In the UK in 2009 it was estimated that up to 12 million shoppers appeared at the sales (a rise of almost 20% compared to 2008, although this was also affected by the fact that the VAT was about to revert to 17.5% from 1 January, following the temporary reduction to 15%).Many retailers open very early (typically 5 am or even earlier) and offer doorbuster deals and loss leaders to draw people to their stores. It is not uncommon for long queues to form early in the morning of 26 December, hours before the opening of shops holding the big sales, especially at big-box consumer electronics retailers. Many stores have a limited quantity of big draw or deeply discounted items. Because of the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, many choose to stay at home and avoid the hectic shopping experience. Local media often covers the event, mentioning how early the shoppers began queuing up, and showing video of shoppers queuing and later leaving with their purchased items. Many retailers have implemented practices aimed at managing large numbers of shoppers. They may limit entrances, restrict the number of patrons in a store at a time, provide tickets to people at the head of the queue to guarantee them a hot ticket item, or canvass queued-up shoppers to inform them of inventory limitations.In recent years, retailers have expanded deals to "Boxing Week". While Boxing Day is 26 December, many retailers will run the sales for several days before or after 26 December, often up to New Year's Eve. Notably, in the recession of late 2008, a record number of retailers held early promotions due to a weak economy. Canada's Boxing Day has often been compared with the American Super Saturday (the Saturday before Christmas) and Black Friday. From 2009 onward, Black Friday deals became more prominent among Canadian retailers to discourage shoppers from crossing the border to the US when the Canadian and USA dollars were close to parity. This has lessened the appeal of Boxing Day in Canada somewhat as it was overtaken by Black Friday in terms of sales in 2013. Boxing Day is not and has never been a shopping holiday in the USA; however, 26 December often starts many retailers' after-Christmas sales.
In some areas of Canada, particularly in Atlantic Canada and parts of Northern Ontario, most retailers are prohibited from opening on Boxing Day, either by provincial law or by municipal bylaw, or by informal agreement among major retailers, in order to provide a day of relaxation following Christmas Day. In these areas, sales otherwise scheduled for 26 December are moved to the 27th. The city council of Greater Sudbury, Ontario, which was the largest city in Canada to maintain this restriction as of the early 2010s, formally repealed its store hours bylaw on 9 December 2014.In 2009, many retailers with both online and High Street stores launched their online sales on Christmas Eve and their High Street sales on Boxing Day.
In the United Kingdom, it is traditional for all top-tier football leagues in England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland – the Premier League, the Scottish Premiership, and the NIFL Premiership – and the lower ones, as well as the rugby leagues, to hold a full programme of football matches on Boxing Day. Originally, matches on Boxing Day were played against local rivals to avoid teams and their fans having to travel a long distance to an away game on the day after Christmas Day. Prior to the formation of leagues, a number of traditional rugby union fixtures took place on Boxing Day each year, notably Llanelli v London Welsh and Leicester v The Barbarians.
In Italy, Boxing Day football was played for the first time in the 2018/19 Serie A season. The experiment was successful, with Italian stadiums 69% full on average – more than any other matchday in December 2018.In rugby league, festive fixtures were a staple of the traditional winter season. Since the transition to a summer season in the 1990s, no formal fixtures are now arranged on Boxing Day but some clubs, such as Wakefield Trinity, arrange a traditional local derby friendly fixture instead.
In Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, Test cricket matches are played on Boxing Day. For more details see Boxing Day Test.In Australia, the first day of the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne and the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race are on Boxing Day.In horse racing, there is the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park Racecourse in Surrey, England. It is the second most prestigious chase in Britain, after the Cheltenham Gold Cup. In addition to the prestigious race at Kempton, in Britain, it is usually the day with the highest number of racing meetings of the year, with eight in 2016, in addition to three more in Ireland. In Barbados, the final day of horse racing is held on Boxing Day at The Historic Garrison Savannah, a UNESCO world heritage site. This tradition has been going on for decades in this former British colony.
Boxing Day is one of the main days in the hunting calendar for hunts in the UK and US, with most hunts (both mounted foxhound or harrier packs and foot packs of beagles or bassets) holding meets, often in town or village centres.Several ice hockey contests are associated with the day. The IIHF World U20 Championship typically begins on 26 December, while the Spengler Cup also begins on 23 December in Davos, Switzerland; the Spengler Cup competition includes HC Davos, Team Canada, and other top European Hockey teams. The National Hockey League traditionally had close to a full slate of games (10 were played in 2011), following the league-wide days off given for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. However, the 2013 collective bargaining agreement (which followed a lock-out) extended the league mandate of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off to include Boxing Day, except when it falls on a Saturday, in which case the league can choose to make 23 December a league-wide off day instead for that year.In some African Commonwealth nations, particularly Ghana, Uganda, Malawi, Zambia and Tanzania, professional boxing contests are held on Boxing Day. This practice has also been followed for decades in Guyana and Italy.A notable tradition in Sweden is Annandagsbandy, which formerly marked the start of the bandy season and always draws large crowds. Games traditionally begin at 1:15 pm.
Snopes: The Origins of Boxing Day