Happy Boxing Day! What?

Christmas boxes wrapped
Christmas gifts. Pile of wrapped Christmas presents

OK, so this article is for our readers in the U.S., Philippines, anywhere but the U.K., because those British Commonwealth-ish people know all about this. We didn’t when we were lucky enough to get to live an entire year in Dublin. Now we know. So, happy Boxing Day! See if these traditions are adaptable to the ones you have for the day after Christmas (eating leftovers, putting together toys, visiting, recreating).

Boxing day is always December 26th and is celebrated mostly in the U.K. and Commonwealth nations such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and also in South Africa. Some European countries have also added the tradition. In Germany, Boxing Day is called “Zweite Feiertag” (which means ‘second celebration’). In some other European countries, such as Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia, 26 December is celebrated as a Second Christmas Day.

The holiday originated in the Middle Ages. People dropped money in “alms boxes” in churches and this is the day those boxes were opened and the contents distributed to the poor. Servants were needed in homes on Christmas Day because of festivities and meals that required their help. But they got a day off the day after Christmas. Servants, milkmen, butchers, and others went around to various homes on Boxing Day to collect tips. Some received a box containing money, gifts, and even leftover food instead of a tip. This definition is from several hundred years ago:

A present or gratuity given at Christmas: in Great Britain, usually confined to gratuities given to those who are supposed to have a vague claim upon the donor for services rendered to him as one of the general public by whom they are employed and paid, or as a customer of their legal employer; the undefined theory being that as they have done offices for this person, for which he has not directly paid them, some direct acknowledgement is becoming at Christmas.

Certain traditions have grown up around this unique holiday. In history, pantomimes were performed. Now, there’s horse racing, cricket, and soccer matches (and actually boxing in African Commonwealth countries), and big sales in the stores.

Boxing Day Toronto Eaten Centre
via Wikipedia Boxing Day sale at the Toronto Eaton Centre 2007 by Skeezix1000

St. Stephen is connected with this day, but it’s not the Stephen in the Bible who was martyred and saw a vision of God, Christ, and angels. St. Stephen was a medieval missionary to Sweden. He had a special love for horses and other animals and fell as a martyr to pagans in the land. The song “Good King Wenceslas” refers to the Feast of Stephen, and this is what the words refer to. St. Stephen’s Day is what the Irish celebrate.

Read more about Boxing Day.

How can you adapt the information above to your own Christmas traditions? Are there service people you can recognize and gift on December 26th?

Have you celebrated Boxing Day? Are you a missionary who has had an experience with Boxing Day? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Boxing Day Celebrations around the World


Gale Boyd is the managing editor for ThirdHour.org. She is a Jewish convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has lived all over the world. She has raised 6 Third Culture Kids and is always homesick for somewhere.