What Is Boxing Day? 3 Facts You Need To Know About The British Holiday

 @ZoeMintzz.mintz@ibtimes.com on December 25 2013 12:52 PM
Boxing Day swim_Wales
Swimmers wearing Sumo wrestler costumes take part in the annual Tenby Boxing Day swim in Tenby, Wales on Dec. 26, 2012. Reuters/Rebecca Naden

While most Americans are left recovering from Christmas festivities on Dec. 26, the British and Commonwealth countries continue to relish the holiday season. Boxing Day or the day-after-Christmas holiday is a national holiday in the UK where families eat leftovers or head to the stores to nab the latest deals, much like Black Friday.

Why is it called Boxing Day?

The exact origins of the holiday are a bit muddled. Some say the name of the holiday comes from “Christmas Box,” the name for a Christmas gift. One tradition in particular describes how the British aristocracy would give presents (and a day off) to servants and employees as a sign of gratitude for their help working on Christmas day.

Others point to the charity boxes placed outside of churches to collect money for the poor. Priests also placed Christmas boxes on ships. Crewmen would drop money in it to ensure a safe return. If the ship returned safely, the money would be distributed to the poor.

How is Boxing Day celebrated?

Boxing Day has been a national holiday in England, Wales, Ireland and Canada since 1871. If the day falls on the weekend, the following Monday is observed as a public holiday.

Typically, Brits observe the holiday by eating leftovers, watching TV, soccer matches and horse races. In England, fox hunting was a traditional activity on Boxing Day, but has since been banned – although some hunts continue to take place on Dec. 26.  For those who want to act silly, some participate in the Boxing Day Dip -- a charity event where people swim in the sea while wearing costumes. 

In 1994, South Africa renamed Boxing Day as the Day of Goodwill in an effort to sever ties to the country’s colonial past. In Ireland, the day is called St. Stephen’s Day where there’s a tradition called “hunting the wren” involving boys fastening a fake wren to a pole and walking it through town.

In Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, the day has become a shopping holiday, much like Black Friday is in America.

Which countries observe Boxing Day?

Boxing Day is celebrated in many Commonwealth countries and former British dominions including Hong Kong, Australia, Canada, Belize, Jamaica, South Africa and Uganda. Some European countries such as Germany, Poland, Scandinavia and the Netherlands call Dec. 26 “Second Christmas Day,” where the holiday is extended for another day.

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