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Boxing Day: Everything You Need to Know

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How do you celebrate the day after Christmas?

If you live in America, you might take the day to recover from eating too many Christmas cookies, or finally walk around the house and pick up all the boxes, wrapping paper, and toys. 

Maybe you take a trip to the store to make some returns or purchase discounted leftover Christmas decorations. You might even go back to work. Or just sleep in. 

After all, there’s nothing special about December 26 in the United States.

But for residents of the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries, December 26 is another holiday and continuation of the Christmas season, called Boxing Day.

You may have heard of it from movies or TV shows. It’s actually a tradition that dates back centuries. And it isn’t about boxing, at least not the sport. Or the dog breed. The central theme of Boxing Day is the giving of gifts, historically in boxes, to workers and the poor.

Like many holidays, it’s evolved over time and is now a popular day for holiday shopping. And at, the family and holiday gift list maker, we’re familiar with shopping. 

Here’s everything you need to know to get into the Boxing Day spirit:

The history of Boxing Day

Have you ever heard of Good King Wenceslas? In the Christmas carol, he travels through a snowstorm to deliver alms to a peasant for the Feast of St. Stephen, a second Christmas Day celebrated on December 26.

The historical Saint Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia lived in the 10th century. But just like his legend, he was known for acts of piety and giving generously to those in need.

He probably has something to do with the origins of Boxing Day. After all, he embodied the spirit of giving to the poor on December 26. 

However, the holiday’s exact roots are unknown, and there are two leading theories about how the holiday came to officially be known as “Boxing Day.”

The gift of Christmas boxes

Boxing Day may be named from the aristocratic tradition to give Christmas boxes, probably filled with food, to their servants and other employees. It was a way for them to show their gratitude to the workers who weren’t given time off on December 25. 

Boxes for alms

The second theory is that the name came from the boxes placed in churches to collect monetary donations during the Christmas season. Then, on Saint Stephen’s Day, which is celebrated on December 26, the clergy would distribute the donations to the poor.

However you look at its origins, Boxing Day comes from a tradition of giving to those in need or who work in a serving profession.

Boxing Day in the 21st century

Today, Boxing Day is celebrated in several countries around the world. In Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and other countries that were once part of the British Empire, Boxing Day is a national holiday and most federal businesses are closed.

And while many aspects of the traditional celebration remain, such as giving to service professionals, it’s also become known for holiday shopping.

Here’s a breakdown of the modern Boxing Day traditions:

1. Acts of charity

It’s still popular to participate in acts of charity on Boxing Day, which also coincides with the Feast of Saint Stephen. Whether through donations to the church or a family in need, many people keep with the tradition of helping those less fortunate. 

This is a thoughtful way to give to impoverished people and workers in honor of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr, who donated food and aid to the poor.

2. Visiting family, friends, and neighbors

Because federal businesses are closed on Boxing Day, some people have time to celebrate with others. It’s a great day to gather with friends, family, and neighbors. Some households even pay tribute to the Feast of Saint Stephen by providing food to anyone who stops by for a visit.

And for those who do have to work on Boxing Day, it’s common for large gatherings at local pubs to celebrate in the evening and enjoy each other’s company.

3. Honoring service professionals

The people who deliver your mail, collect your garbage, or work at your church are in professions that serve others. It’s still a tradition to provide a small gift, such as a cash tip, to these professionals on Boxing Day.

You might even open your house to these men and women, as you host other friends and neighbors throughout the day.

4. Sporting events and time outdoors 

It’s become common to enjoy sporting games and spend time outside on Boxing Day, especially in countries like Australia where it’s warm around the Christmas holidays. And in cooler climates, some people even attempt a polar bear plunge. 

But it’s just as common to attend large sporting events or gather inside to watch them on TV. There are usually several popular football (soccer) matches, rugby games, and horse races to enjoy. 

5. Shopping deals

For countries that celebrate Boxing Day, the holiday is very similar to the American Black Friday. Many stores offer significant discounts, and people even line up early in the morning to try to get the best deals. Local media often provide coverage of the huge crowds and amazing sales.

For merchants, it’s the day of the year when they can expect the highest revenues. 

To get the best holiday shopping deals on Boxing Day, you should definitely plan ahead. Browse online and print advertisements to see the best products to look for, and check for any store regulations, like a limited number of shoppers or special hours.

When you’re making a list of what you want to purchase, consider preparing for 2022. What presents will you want to give loved ones and friends for birthdays, Valentine’s Day, or Mother’s Day? What do your kids need for school? What do you need for your home or your closet? 

Take advantage of the day to get everything you need to start preparing for next year. And don’t forget some small acts of kindness for others, too.

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