Christmas Traditions

What Is Boxing Day & Why Do We Celebrate After Christmas?

Boxing Day has mostly become an after-Christmas shopping holiday for much of the world, but its charitable origin makes December 26th a day everyone should celebrate!

by | December 26, 2022

Split Screen Image - Close-Up of Santa wearing Boxing Gloves and a Donation Box to represent Boxing Day December 26

Contrary to popular belief, Boxing Day is not about boxing. At least, not about the kind of boxing one does in a ring wearing gloves. It also doesn't have anything to do with the post office, although many companies do not have postal service on Boxing Day.

So, What Is Boxing Day?

Boxing Day is traditionally celebrated on December 26, the day after Christmas. It supposedly originated in the Middle Ages as a day to collect donations for the poor, specifically in an alms box in a church. It’s mainly been celebrated in Great Britain as well as Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. It was traditionally a day for tradesmen to collect money or gifts the first weekday after Christmas; this was as thanks for their work throughout the year. The holiday is even mentioned in a diary written by writer Samuel Pepys in 1663.

An even older tradition is cited as a day when servants were allowed to leave their master’s homes to visit their own families, since they would have worked on Christmas Day serving the family for whom they worked. The servants would be given a box of gifts and perhaps money and leftover food to take to their own families and have their own family celebrations. The name itself supposedly dates to the era of Queen Victoria (as do so many other holiday traditions).

The date of the holiday is sometimes moved to December 28 to ensure that it falls on a weekday; when it falls on the 26th, it’s celebrated the same day as St. Stephens Day, or the Feast of Saint Stephen. The day commemorates Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr.

These days Boxing Day is known as a Bank Holiday or Public Holiday in England, and is also often known as a shopping day to snag all those post-Christmas deals. And while boxing matches generally aren’t played or shown on TV, in the UK—football (soccer) often is. This ties into the idea that it’s a day to spend with friends and family doing something relaxing and fun. Since it was traditionally the cook’s day off, this was also the day to indulge in leftovers from the feast of the day before.

How to Celebrate Boxing Day

In parts of England, Boxing Day has a tradition similar to the Polar Bear plunges often held on New Year’s Day in the US, when people take an icy swim in the ocean. In England, there’s a twist--it’s a day when people in fancy outfits go for a swim, or a dip, in the sea. If you’re feeling adventurous, go for a dip!

In Germany, the day is referred to as “Zweiter Feiertag,” or second celebration (like second breakfast for Hobbits.) There they may host a relaxed breakfast buffet for friends to drop by and always have small boxes ready for people to take home leftovers.

Some people also save one present for Boxing Day-- and sometimes switch things up by making it part of a scavenger hunt with clues. Alternately, you can do a Secret Boxer (instead of a Secret Santa) and give these gifts out on Boxing Day to keep the festivities going. 

And while it is of course a great day for shopping, one of the best ways to honor the origin of Boxing Day is to use the day to give to those less fortunate.

Happy Boxing Day!

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