Boxing Day is a holiday celebrated the day after Christmas Day, occurring on the second day of Christmastide. Though it originated as a holiday to give gifts to the poor, today Boxing Day is primarily known as a shopping holiday. 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 one or two days later (if necessary to ensure it falls on a weekday). Boxing Day is also concurrent with the Christian holiday Saint Stephen's Day.
|Also called||Offering Day|
|Observed by||Commonwealth nations|
|Type||Bank holiday, public holiday|
|Related to||Day of Goodwill|
Saint Stephen's Day (concurrent)
Second Day of Christmastide
The European tradition of giving money and other gifts to those in need, or in service positions, has been dated to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown. It is sometimes believed to be in reference to the Alms Box placed in the narthex of Christian churches to collect donations to the poor. The tradition may come from a custom in the late Roman/early Christian era wherein alms boxes placed in churches were used to collect special offerings tied to the Feast of Saint Stephen, which, in the Western Christian Churches, falls on the same day as Boxing Day, the second day of Christmastide. On this day, it is customary in some localities for the alms boxes to be opened and distributed to the poor.
The Oxford English Dictionary gives the earliest attestations from Britain in the 1830s, defining it as "the first weekday after Christmas day, observed as a holiday on which postmen, 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 where the servants of the wealthy were allowed the next day to visit their families since they would have had to serve their masters on Christmas Day. The employers would give each servant a box to take home containing gifts, bonuses, and sometimes leftover food. Until the late 20th century there continued to be a tradition among many in the UK to give a Christmas gift, usually cash, to vendors, although not on Boxing Day as many would not work on that day.
In South Africa, vendors who normally have little interaction with those they serve are accustomed to knock on the vendors' doors to ask for a "Christmas box", being a small cash donation, in the weeks before or after Christmas. This practice has become controversial and some municipalities have banned their staff from asking for Christmas boxes.
Boxing Day is traditionally celebrated on 26 December, the day after Christmas Day, though many people hold—and there is documentary assertion—that it would not fall on a Sunday (Sunday being the day of worship), and consequently Monday 27 December would be Boxing Day. Saint Stephen's Day, a religious holiday, also falls on 26 December.
Status by country
In Australia, Boxing Day is a public holiday in all jurisdictions except the 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. Every year a test cricket match is played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground starting on Boxing day.
In Ireland, when the entire island was part of the United Kingdom, the Bank Holidays Act 1871 established the feast day of Saint Stephen as a non-moveable public holiday on 26 December. Following partition in 1920, Northern Ireland reverted to the British name, Boxing Day. In East Donegal and Inishowen, the day is also popularly known as Boxing Day.
In New Zealand, Boxing Day is a statutory holiday. On these holidays, people who must work receive 1 1/2 times their salaries and a day in lieu is provided to employees who work.
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 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 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 South Africa, the Day of Goodwill, which falls on 26 December, is a public holiday.
In Trinidad and Tobago, Boxing Day is a public holiday.
In the UK, 26 December (unless it is a Sunday) has been a bank holiday since 1871. When 26 December falls on a Saturday, the associated public holiday is on the following Monday. When 26 December falls on a Sunday, the public holiday is the following Tuesday, Monday being the public holiday associated with Christmas Day.
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 Massachusetts, Governor William F. Weld declared every 26 December is Boxing Day, in response to the efforts of a coalition of British citizens to "transport the English tradition to the United States", but not an employee holiday.
In the UK, Canada, Australia, Trinidad and Tobago, and New Zealand, Boxing Day is primarily known as a shopping holiday. 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 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.
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, branding it as "Boxing Week". Notably, in the recession of late 2008, a record number of retailers held early promotions due to a weak economy. 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.
The tradition has been compared to the U.S. phenomenon of Black Friday – the Friday following the Thanksgiving holiday in late-November – which is usually considered the first day of the Christmas shopping season. In the late-2000s, when the Canadian and U.S. dollar were near parity, Canadian retailers began to hold Black Friday promotions to attract consumers who would otherwise travel across the border to visit U.S. stores. This has lessened the appeal of Boxing Day in Canada somewhat, as it was overtaken by Black Friday in terms of sales by 2013.
In the 2010s, many British retailers also began to import the Black Friday tradition, led primarily by retailers with American ownership such as Amazon and Asda (the latter owned by the U.S.-based Walmart). In 2015, British retail sales in November overtook sales in December for the first time. In 2019, a retail analysis firm estimated that there was a 9.8% drop in British store traffic on Boxing Day in comparison to 2018 (the largest year-over-year drop since 2010), citing several factors, such as the weather, the increased prominence of online shopping, uncertainties in the wake of the general election, and the growing prominence of Black Friday sales.
Boxing Day sales are not a prominent tradition in the United States, although many retailers often begin after-Christmas sales that day. It is typically the earliest starting day after Christmas for people to return unwanted gifts for exchanges or refunds, and to redeem gift cards.
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, 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 Junior 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.
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- Robb, Nancy (1984). Mid-winter festivals: anthology of stories, traditions, and poems. S.E. Clapp. p. 27.
St. Stephen's Day or Boxing Day: Boxing Day, or Offering Day as it is sometimes called, derives its name from the ancient practice of giving boxes of money at the midwinter holiday season to all those who had given good service throughout the year. Boxing Day, December 26, was the day the boxes were opened. Later, it was the day on which the alms boxes, located in the churches on Christmas Day, were opened and the contents given to the poor.
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Yet another legend is that Boxing Day started the tradition of opening the alms boxes placed in churches during the Christmas season. The contents of the alms boxes were then distributed amongst the poor of the parish.
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