In the U.S. Black Friday is a popular holiday in its own right, but did you know that in many countries the day after Christmas is celebrated as well? You may have heard of Boxing Day before, but what is it exactly and where (and why) is it celebrated?
Boxing Day is a popular English holiday celebrated on the day after Christmas each year. It is an official national holiday in the UK but is also popular in a number of British Commonwealth nations like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, and Ireland. While it is often a busy shopping day, the most common Boxing Day traditions involve eating leftovers and watching football (soccer) and cricket.
What is the Reason for Boxing Day?
It’s mentioned in print as far back as 1833 and was officially recognized as a British holiday in 1871, but where does the inspiration for Boxing Day actually come from? The origin and reason for Boxing Day is up for some debate, but there are a few agreed-upon possible explanations for the name of the holiday. (And while sports are a big part of Boxing Day celebrations, the name doesn’t have anything to do with that type of boxing!)
Traditional Day Off for Servants – One possible reason for Boxing Day is that the day after Christmas was traditionally a day off for servants, who had to work on Christmas. The heads of houses and estates would typically give servants Christmas boxes containing gifts, leftovers, or money, which they would take home to their families for their own holiday celebrations.
Charity Drives During Advent – Boxing Day may also be rooted in the old tradition of churches and community groups collecting alms (donations) for the poor during the Advent season. They would then open these collection boxes on the day after Christmas and distribute funds and supplies to the poor. (This was done originally as part of the Catholic Feast of Saint Stephen—meant to honor the generous spirit of the Christian martyr on December 26.)
Sailing Boxes – It used to be common practice for ships that were setting out on long journeys to have a “good luck” box. Each sailor would put some money in the box, which would then be blessed by a priest before leaving on the voyage. When the ship returned safely to port, the box would be donated to the church, who would open it on Christmas day and redistribute the money to the poor as a way of giving thanks for safe travels.
When is Boxing Day?
Boxing Day is celebrated the day after Christmas (December 26), meaning it falls on a different day of the week every year. Since Boxing Day is an official public holiday in the UK, many workers get this day off. This means that if it falls on a weekend, Boxing Day is officially recognized on either the following Monday (if the 26th is on a Saturday) or Tuesday (if it falls on Sunday). This makes it a great opportunity to spend a little extra time with family or to visit friends while looking forward to New Years!
Where is Boxing Day Celebrated?
As a British holiday, Boxing Day is celebrated in the UK and many other nations that were once part of the British Empire. Boxing Day is especially widely celebrated in countries where football (American soccer), rugby, and cricket are popular since these sports often hold special games on December 26. In addition to the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, and Ireland celebrate Boxing Day. (Though in Ireland the holiday overlaps with the celebration of St. Stephen’s Day.)
Is Boxing Day Popular in Canada?
While Boxing Day is celebrated in many British Commonwealth countries, it is especially popular in Canada as the biggest shopping day of the year. Much like Black Friday in the U.S., Boxing Day in Canada is a time when stores big and small offer special discounts on all sorts of merchandise. Electronics, furniture, appliances, and toys are common sale items. It’s even common to find special Boxing Day sales on leftover Christmas decorations and fun items for next year!
What Are Some Boxing Day Traditions?
While shopping is a huge Boxing Day tradition in Canada, many other countries treat the holiday more as an extended time for rest and relaxation. Repurposing leftovers into things like turkey sandwiches and other traditional dishes is part of many households’ Boxing Day celebrations. Sometimes this even involves hosting informal second Christmas dinners for visitors who you weren’t able to see in the days prior.
And while rest and relaxation with family and friends are great, what is Boxing Day without leftovers and a big game on the TV? Like traditional Thanksgiving Bowl games in the U.S., many football, rugby, and cricket leagues hold special matches on Boxing Day. This tradition is especially popular in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, where matches that used to be held on Christmas now occupy a special part of their Boxing Day traditions.
Whether you’re a soccer or rugby fan or just want a fun excuse to spend some extra time relaxing with family and enjoying your Christmas flowers, Boxing Day can be a great new tradition to add to your holiday schedule!