Why don't Americans celebrate Boxing Day?

Updated October 7, 2021 | Rachel David

No Love for St. Stephen

Boxing Day, also known as St. Stephen's Day, is a holiday celebrated every year the day after Christmas. If Boxing Day falls on the weekend, it is observed the following Monday so that everyone gets a weekday free from work. About 30 countries celebrate Boxing Day, including nations in the Commonwealth such as New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Some former British colonies like The Bahamas, Hong Kong, and South Africa also have made it a public holiday. Despite most English-speaking countries honoring Boxing Day as an official holiday, the United States has never adopted it as a national tradition.

What is Boxing Day?

Boxing Day's exact origin is unclear, but England made it an official bank holiday in the 1800s, and other English-speaking countries followed their lead. One theory about its origin dates back to the Middle Ages and claims that alms boxes were set in churches to collect gifts from the public to give to the less fortunate. Another theory says Boxing Day was created to give servants a day off, who usually worked on Christmas Day for their masters, as well as other employees who spent holidays on the job in professions such as mail delivery and household staff. Both theories support why many historians believe Boxing Day's roots are tied to the Christian St. Stephen's Day, the saint of charitable giving, as a way to help the less fortunate and support overworked communities throughout history.

Boxing Day Traditions

When Boxing Day first originated, it was during the era when Britain had a societal hierarchy. Servants and workers who had to labor through most national holidays like Christmas, Good Friday, and New Year's Day were presented with Christmas boxes filled with gifts from their bosses or masters on Boxing Day. They would take it home to their families to enjoy and have the day free from work. 

Those who celebrate Boxing Day today still choose to give gifts to service workers or the less fortunate like they did in traditional times, but most celebratory traditions have changed throughout the modern era. While citizens have the day off of work, sports events run on primetime television channels, with soccer, rugby, horseracing, and cricket matches among the most popular Boxing Day sporting events. Shopping centers have also capitalized on the holiday, starting their post-holiday discounts on Boxing Day and enticing residents to spend their day shopping. Pubs and bars in countries celebrating Boxing Day usually stay open as well, where friends and family gather for drinks. Others choose to stay home and enjoy the holiday by relaxing and eating leftover food from Christmas Day. 

The United States and Boxing Day

The United States is one of the few English-speaking countries that does not recognize Boxing Day as an official holiday. If December 26th falls on a weekday, Americans often go back to work or have to use a vacation day if they choose not to work the day after Christmas. 

There is no definitive reason why Americans do not celebrate Boxing Day, but there is also no reason why they would have adopted it. The American government did not see the need to adopt a public holiday from its former motherland nearly 100 years after becoming independent from them. The United States had already created its own holiday in November 1789, Thanksgiving Day, to give thanks for livelihood and good health throughout the year. The day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, is also the United States' largest shopping and sales day of the year, instead of the day after Christmas as is the custom in England and other countries that celebrate Boxing Day. Since Boxing Day's inception, the United States has chosen to leave it off of their holiday calendar and will likely continue to do so.

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