How Boxing Day got its name

How Boxing Day got its name

Christmas is widely celebrated in both the United States and the Commonwealth nations (such as Great Britain, Canada and Australia). But there are stark differences between how the U.S. and Commonwealth celebrate — and even in how long they celebrate.

Boxing Day is one example. Though widely celebrated north of the border and on the other side of the Atlantic on Dec. 26, most people in the U.S. don't observe the holiday, or even know what it's about (it's not about staring at opened boxes and ordering takeout, for example). 

For all those who aren't sure what it's about, here's the origins of Boxing Day, and how it got its name.

Boxing day started with "charitable" giving

Boxing Day likely has its origins in Britain during the Middle Ages, and is sometimes also known as the Feast of St. Stephen

There are a few explanations on how Boxing Day got its start. Some speculate that the day is in honor of servants who could not celebrate Christmas Day with their loved ones — they were busy doing housework. Their masters would "generously" give them a box to take home the following day, on Dec. 26, which would include gifts, food and bonuses for them and their families.

Another theory is rooted in a certain box being opened the day after Christmas — the alms box. Parishioners would fill these boxes with small donations that would be distributed to the needy. 

How it's celebrated

Boxing Day is usually a time to spend with loved ones, including those you may not have been able to see on Christmas Day. In Britain it is considered a bank holiday, allowing many people to take the day off.

Traditionally it has been seen as a day of sport as well. Up until 2004, when the sport was banned, Boxing Day was seen as a day to take part in fox hunting. Other sports take part in the day too, including horse racing and soccer.

Shopping holiday

The day after Christmas, once celebrated as a time to spend with family, is now one of the most popular shopping days of the year in Britain. People flock to stores to take advantage of after-Christmas sales, and many consider the holiday to be equivalent to Black Friday here in the U.S.

Not everyone is happy with Boxing Day becoming a shopping holiday. Some desire simpler, more family-based celebrations that have less to do with great deals and more to do with creating memories.