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Boxing Day

Traditional English holiday extends Christmas giving

by David Johnson
What is Boxing Day?

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Historians say the holiday developed because servants were required to work on Christmas Day, but took the following day off. As servants prepared to leave to visit their families, their employers would present them with gift boxes.

Despite its name, Boxing Day, which is celebrated on December 26 in Great Britain, has nothing to do with pugilistic competition. Nor is it a day for people to return unwanted Christmas presents. While the exact origins of the holiday are obscure, it is likely that Boxing Day began in England during the Middle Ages.

Some historians say the holiday developed because servants were required to work on Christmas Day, but took the following day off. As servants prepared to leave to visit their families, their employers would present them with gift boxes.

Church Alms Boxes

Another theory is that the boxes placed in churches where parishioners deposited coins for the poor were opened and the contents distributed on December 26, which is also the Feast of St. Stephen.

As time went by, Boxing Day gift giving expanded to include those who had rendered a service during the previous year. This tradition survives today as people give presents to tradesmen, mail carriers, doormen, porters, and others who have helped them.

The Day after Christmas

Boxing Day is December 26, the day after Christmas, and is celebrated in Great Britain and in most areas settled by the English (the U.S. is the major exception), including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Bank Holidays

Boxing Day is just one of the British bank holidays recognized since 1871 that are observed by banks, government offices, and the post office. The others include Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Whitmonday (the day after Pentecost), and the banking holiday on the last Monday in August.

St. Stephen's Martyrdom

The Feast of St. Stephen also takes place on December 26. St. Stephen was one of the seven original deacons of the Christian Church who were ordained by the Apostles to care for widows and the poor. For the success of his preaching and his devotion to Christ, St. Stephen was stoned to death by a mob. As he died, he begged God not to punish his killers.

Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

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