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What Is Boxing Day And How Did It Get That Name?

No, it's not a day to strap on the gloves and get in the ring! Learn all about this post-Christmas holiday and who celebrates it!

Each year, on December 26th, several countries around the world celebrate a holiday known as Boxing Day. It is officially recognized in Commonwealth countries (places like the United Kingdom, Australia, and our neighbors to the north, Canada). We Americans see this holiday on our calendars, but few of us know what Boxing Day represents.

In fact, even though this holiday has been officially recognized in the UK and Canada since 1871, many of the people who celebrate it each year are unclear on what it means or how it came about. We’ll give you a hint: Boxing Day definitely isn’t about fighting!

Here at the Farmers’ Almanac, we love holidays—especially those with mysterious origins! Here’s how people around the world celebrate Boxing Day, and explore some of the legends that may have given rise to this holiday.

Good King Wenceslas

The traditional Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas” tells the story of one of the possible origins of Boxing Day. If you’re unfamiliar with this song, listen below and read along with the lyrics. The events of this carol take place on December 26th, which also happens to be the Feast of St. Stephen. In the song, Wenceslas, a 10th century Duke of Bohemia, sees a poor man and he decides to help this man. The Duke enlists the help of his page in gathering food, wine, and firewood, boxing it all up so that they can take it to the peasant. Then, Wenceslas and his page brave a blizzard to deliver the boxes of goods.

Legend holds that Wenceslas’ actions started a tradition in which churchgoers would donate money during the Advent. Then, on the day after Christmas, the boxes of money would be broken open and distributed among the poor. After decades of carrying out this (un)boxing tradition, December 26 became known as Boxing Day.

Employee Bonus Day?

Another tradition says that it originates from the practice of the aristocracy giving their employees bonuses and presents on the day after Christmas. As the stories go, employees would take their boxes home and open them up with their families, hence Boxing Day.

What We Do Know About Boxing Day

We may not know precisely how this holiday came to be, but we do know one thing: The first recorded mention of Boxing Day comes from a 1830s version of the Oxford English Dictionary. The definition given is “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.”

In other words, according to this definition, Boxing Day is a day to recognize all the service people in your life by leaving them Christmas presents. This year, if you want to celebrate Boxing Day the right way, make sure to leave a box of goodies for delivery people, the sanitation worker, and all the other people that make life easier for everyone.

Modern Boxing Day Celebrations

For most people, today’s version of Boxing Day isn’t about ancient traditions or giving out piles of presents. Instead, it’s an official bank holiday, and a day of rest and relaxation (although many retailers hold “Boxing Day Sales”). After all, Christmas is over and there’s nothing left to do but eat leftovers, play with the presents you opened the day before, and enjoy a day off from work or school. In the United Kingdom, there are many Boxing Day events, including fox hunts that draw thousands of spectators, sporting events, dips in the sea while dressed as Santa, fun runs, charity events, and parades.

Here in the United States, we may not mark the actual holiday, but for many of us, it’s still a day to relax with family, knowing that the Holidays are drawing to a close.

Amber Kanuckel is a freelance writer from rural Ohio who loves all things outdoors. She specializes in home, garden, environmental and green living topics. Her article on woolly worm caterpillar folklore appears in the 2020 Farmers' Almanac.

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monica smith

When I grew up in UK in the 40s and 50s, on Boxing day we gave a Christmas Box to delivery men etc. The box by then was an envelope with money. My mother always gave them a mince pie as well.

Logan Whitsitt

I didn’t know that about Boxing day, and am glad you shared it! I do remember seeing it before, though. Happy Holidays!!!

Daina Higginbotham

I didn’t know what you say is the meaning of boxing day. I always thought Boxing Day was the day (that would happen in January) that we get all our Christmas decorations boxed up and put away until we need them again next year. Who’d thought.

monica smith

Twelfth night, Jan 5 was the day we took down the decorations. We had the tiniest Christmas tree with decorations, glass balls from before WW1. It was also the end of mince pies for that year as we were usually down to the last jar of homemade mincemeat by then and mincemeat was only made in september. We also had homemade Christmas pudding and Christmas cake, first slice on Christmas day. The cake was a fruitcake made with minutely chopped candied peel and dried fruit. Then every week the cake received a sprinkle of brandy. In December the cake was covered with a layer of almond paste then two layers of icing and finally the cake was decorated with icing. All the icing was hard icing. When I first moved to Texas I tried making these goodies but they were too rich for a Christmas where the temperature hover around to 70 to 80F around Christmas Time. (these are adult foods and generally not liked by kids)

donna ingle

on my facebook feed, boxing day is when all the cats play and sleep in boxes. just thought i would add that in.

Cassandra Voegele

Enjoyed reading about boxing day, had never heard of it begore. Thank you and Merry Christmas and a Happy Healthy New Year.

Ronda Willis

I never knew the true meaning of Boxing day. Thank you for sharing this very interesting piece of information. I really enjoyed reading and learning about it! Merry Christmas to all !!

Richard

Thank you for this informative article on service and love for others. Nicely done!

Ralph

Thoroughly enjoyed this article. I liked seeing all the words to a song I’ve always loved! Inspiring-I have a Wenceslas figure that I leave out all year for inspiration! Happy New Year!

Claudia Robinson

One of our older priests in his late 70’s was born and raised in rural England. He said it was a tradition that the first person to enter your home on Boxing Day set the tone of good or bad fortune for the coming year. Red headed children especially signified good fortune and health. He had flaming red hair as a chid, so he remembers being paraded around the village to be the ‘first-step’ visitor to many homes!

Donna

That’s wonderful.

Theresa Connors Elliot

This is a fantastic article about the meanings of Boxing Day. Thank you and Merry Christmas for the informative story!

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