This holiday season, like every other, we’ll all participate in the unspoken public charade that we know what’s going on with the day after Christmas. Not the Kwanzaa part, or the part about it being my birthday (thank you!), but the part about it being Boxing Day.
You probably have some vague notion of what Boxing Day is, but if you had to actually describe it? Crickets. This is fine; you’re not alone. You’ll see it on calendars sometimes, but it’s kind of like Arbor Day, in that it’s not a federal holiday and nothing seems to happen. But outside of America, Boxing Day is actually a bona fide public holiday, celebrated most heartily by the UK and British Commonwealth nations. Let’s explore.
The mysterious origins of Boxing Day have something to do with charity
There’s not one agreed-upon origin story for Boxing Day -- the deeper you dig, the greater the confusion. What we know for sure is that the holiday originated in Britain, back in medieval times.
Common theories all involve some variation on the theme of giving to those less fortunate. Some believe the term “Boxing Day” comes from the practice of the rich donating a wooden box of Christmas leftovers to their servants and apprentices -- who would work Christmas Day, but have December 26 off to celebrate with their families. It could also refer to collection boxes set up at churches, their contents distributed to the poor on December 26 -- the day of the Feast of St. Stephen, a Christian martyr known for acts of charity.
OK that’s nice but is there boxing? As in, the sport?
Having been born on Boxing Day, I’ve fielded more Boxing Day-related questions than the average American. The first thing people in the States say, in my experience, is that they know Boxing Day has something to do with boxing -- the act of putting stuff in boxes, and not boxing, the sport -- but even that’s not really true.