Special Occasions

Boxing Day: The History and Traditions of a Misunderstood Holiday

Most of us appreciate an opportunity to relax, eat leftovers, and see our loved ones, and if Boxing Day delivers nothing else but that, it’s still a great holiday. But not too many special days reference boxes, do they? Clearly, we had to investigate the history of this pleasant but mysterious tradition. Here’s what we discovered.

It has British roots

Boxing Day is a colonial holiday, a British one specifically. In addition to the United Kingdom, the countries that recognize it as a national holiday are Australia, Canada, Nigeria, New Zealand, the Bahamas, and South Africa— all former colonies. Other former British colonies such as Ireland celebrate December 26th as St. Stephen’s Day.

Its origins are linked with generosity

There are, in fact, multiple theories about how exactly Boxing Day originated. The only thing we know for sure is that the sport of boxing has nothing to do with it.

Most of these theories are based on traditions of generosity that gained popularity around the Victorian Era. Because it falls right after Christmas, a day of abundance, engaging in charity makes sense. It’s a chance to restore some small measure of fairness and balance in a community.

Many believe that the holiday is based on a British tradition of the rich filling boxes with gifts and money and distributing them to working-class people. If you were wealthy enough, you would prepare a box and give it to your employees or tradespeople, much like a Christmas bonus.

Others believe there is a link to Britain’s navy. Apparently, crews would keep sealed boxes of money on board when they went out to sea for longer periods of time. If they returned home safe and sound, having fulfilled their mission, they would give these boxes to priests. The priests would then hand out the money to the less fortunate people in their parish.

Finally, Boxing Day might have been sparked by a custom of English churches. They would keep collection boxes attached to their doors and then distribute their contents to people who needed extra support during the Christmas season.

Of course, all of these theories circle around using boxes to collect wealth for community redistribution. There is some evidence that the English picked this custom up from the Romans—their former colonial conquerors!

How is it celebrated around the world?

In North America, it’s likely you celebrate Boxing Day in one or two ways: by simply relaxing with family and friends or hitting up widespread retail sales. But elsewhere, the holiday looks quite different.

In Ireland, on St. Stephen’s Day, people occasionally dress up in costumes made of straw and parade around a fake bird. Other people give money and treats to the paraders to avoid back luck.

Finally, in Australia, New Zealand, and Britain, the day is devoted largely to sports. It’s a time to watch soccer, cricket, and rugby games with friends and family.

Happy Holidays

Boxing Day Holiday: The History and Traditions
Boxing Day Holiday: The History and Traditions

Knowing that Boxing Day has its roots in traditions of generosity is eye-opening, isn’t it? We like the idea that a box can become a symbol for sharing, for restoring wellness and balance in a community. We hope all our customers, suppliers, and partners can give and receive freely during these holidays, in whatever ways are safe and make sense. We’re thinking of you!

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