I remember hearing a children’s church teacher say “Boxing Day is about unboxing your presents and putting the boxes away, not for boxing people” and thinking oh, is that why it’s called Boxing Day?
While that sounds like the perfect explanation, it turns out it may not be true. There’s simply been no agreement on one explanation of the origins of the term Boxing Day. It could have come from a number of practices.
In the 17th century, a Christmas-box was a present or gratuity given to service providers by someone who received their services free of charge during the year- a kind of indirect “thank you”. According to Oxford English Dictionary, the day after Christmas Day was the day when letter carriers, errand boys, and other servants and employees received their Christmas boxes. So that’s one possible origin of the term.
There’s also the fact that tradespeople received Christmas boxes of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas which were to say “thank you” for good service all year.
Also, because domestic staff worked on Christmas Day, the day after was when they were allowed to go spend time with their families, and their employers gave them a Christmas box to take along – a hamper box of sorts– containing gifts, bonuses and sometimes food leftover from Christmas Day.
Another interesting possible origin is the practice of placing an Alms Box near a place of worship where donations for the poor were collected. In the carol, “Good King Wenceslas” we see the king providing a peasant with food the day after Christmas, which also happens to be St. Stephen’s Day.
Closely tied to this is the collection of special offerings for St Stephen’s Day, a practice that was common in the early Roman Catholic Church, and metal boxes were placed outside churches for this collection.
Despite the competition between these theories, in today’s world, Boxing Day is pretty much a day to do anything you want; you can collect funds for the less privileged, appreciate people you’ve done business with, load your employees with goodies for their families… or simply find a place for your presents and put the boxes away.
What do you do on Boxing Day? Please share in the comments.