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What is Boxing Day? And why does the UK Celebrate it?

Last Updated on 26th December 2018 by Sophie Nadeau

If you happen to live in the UK, then you’ll know that the day after Christmas is Boxing Day… And that means a bank holiday in certain countries (often meaning a time when banks are closed and stores have limited hours)! But what is Boxing Day? And why is it celebrated in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand?

History of Boxing Day: What is Boxing Day? 

Falling on the 26th of December, this secular holiday is on the same day as the religious day of St Stephen’s and Boxing day itself originated around eight hundred years ago. However, it should be noted that, rather confusingly, there are actually two Saint Stephens in history. The 26th December is for the St Stephen about whom the Good King Wenceslas carol is written.

Why do they call it boxing day?

When it comes to Boxing Day, although no one knows the exact origins of the holiday, it’s clear that the name comes from the type of carrier (the box) and not the sport of boxing or any other kind of box. There are a few theories as to the origins of the name ‘boxing day’:

One theory is that the day is named for a box placed in church during Christmas day to collect money for those in need. Another theory suggest that ‘boxing day’ refers to a box gifted to the servants of grand houses in the past, during one of their only days off in the year (ie the day after Christmas). Finally, a ‘Christmas Box’ is simply a traditional name for a Christmas present!

Christmas at Buckland Abbey: Tudor Christmas traditions in Devon, England

Who celebrates boxing day?

In more recent times, Boxing Day is a Bank Holiday, meaning that many people have a day off work and some people that do work are paid time and a half, or double. As a result, the day is often an extension of Christmas celebrations and provides a great opportunity to hang out with friends, family and enjoy even more good food.

Boxing Day is currently celebrated (or is, at the very least, a public holiday) in UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In some European countries, such as Germany, there is also an unconnected festive day known as Zweite Feiertag (which is quite literally translated as ‘second celebration’).

A taste of Europe: Christmas market mulled wine recipe and a history of Glühwein as well as the origins of mulled wine!

Boxing Day Traditions

Food and Drink: After the busy preparations in place for Christmas day, the food and drink on Boxing Day is a much more relaxed affair. Lunch is typically created from leftover Christmas dinner (always a bonus) or a roasted ham. Christmas desserts such as Mince Pies and leftover Christmas pudding are also consumed. Fancy more mulled wine to go with your Christmas leftovers? Here’s my Christmas Markets Vin Chaud recipe!

Shopping: In more recent years, Boxing Day marks the start of the post-Christmas Sales. And since the arrival of the internet, shopping commences from 00:00 on the dot in many of the larger retailers. Elsewhere, shopping has become something of a sport for many keen to grab a great bargain: many stores open as early as 6 AM and shoppers have been known to queue outside in the cold from the early hours of the morning onwards.

Watching the football: Seeing the footie on the telly is a favourite British pastime. Many top teams play matches on Boxing Day, and after the Queen’s Speech on Christmas Day, they’re some of the most watched programmes of the festive season.

Fox Hunting: This cruel sport is luckily not so much of a tradition as it once was. Thanks to laws meaning that fox hunting with hounds is now illegal in the eyes of the law, this 16th-Century tradition is no longer being practised by many. Traditionally, however, Boxing Day was one of the largest events of the hunting calendar.

Swimming: Throughout the UK, swimming in freezing places has somehow become a tradition! The most famous of these ice cold dips is that of swimming in the English Channel. A couple of years ago, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, and so I went for my own chilly swim at Bigbury-on-Sea. Not recommended! It. Was. Cold.

Found this interesting? Pin What is Boxing Day? now, read it again later (or, like, so you can remember the date for next year!)

European holiday and festive season traditions: What is Boxing Day? Why is it a Bank Holiday in the UK and Ireland, etc? Origins of the 26th December Holiday and traditions.

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