Boxing Day 2019: What is Boxing Day?

Boxing Day History, Traditions, and More

March 7, 2019
Boxing Day Gift
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What is Boxing Day? Why is it called Boxing Day? And what, if anything, does boxing have to do with it? Boxing Day, like a box, has many points of interest. Here is the short history of Boxing Day, some recipes, and more.

What is Boxing Day?

Boxing Day occurs on December 26 (the day after Christmas). However, if Christmas falls on a Saturday, Boxing Day takes place on the following Monday.

This is a public holiday celebrated in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and other Commonwealth countries. Most offices are closed.

Year Boxing Day
2019 Thursday, December 26
2020 Saturday, December 26
2021 Sunday, December 26

What is Boxing Day?

Boxing Day is a centuries’ old gift-giving day that originated in Britain. Yes, boxes are a big part of Boxing Day traditions!

It was a custom on that day for tradesmen to collect their “Christmas boxes,” gifts of money or goods in return for reliable service all year. Do you have any trades people who have been especially helpful this year—your postman, fix-it guy, city doorman? 

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the custom arose because servants, who would have to wait on their masters on Christmas Day, were allowed to visit their families the next day and employers would give them boxes to take home containing gifts, bonuses and, sometimes, leftover food.

One of the earliest records of these box gifts dates from 1663. In an entry in his diary, English Parliamentarian Samuel Pepys writes that he sent a coach and messenger to his shoemaker to deliver “something to the boys’ box against Christmas” in addition to funds to cover his bill.

Later, during the Victorian era (1837–1901, the period of Queen Victoria’s reign), Boxing Day evolved. It became an occasion for church parishioners to deposit donations into a box that was put out for the purpose by the clergyman. The money in the boxes was given to the poor.

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Also, St. Stephen’s Day

Boxing Day in Ireland is also known as St. Stephen’s Day. But did you know that there are two saints named Stephen? One St. Stephen was stoned to death shortly after Christ’s crucifixion (and is considered the first Christian martyr). The other St. Stephen practiced mission work in Sweden and had a fondness for animals—especially horses. (This may be the reason that horse racing is popular on this day.)

He’s also named in the Christmas song Good King Wenceslas. Its first line describes the king’s activities on St. Stephen’s day: “Good King Wenceslas looked out/on the feast of Stephen.” Written by John Mason Neale and first published in 1853, the lyrics celebrate the spirit of Boxing Day—generosity—as it describes King Wenceslas watching a poor man “gath’ring winter fuel.” The king then brings the peasant food and logs for his fire. 

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Boxing Day Food and Drink Recipes

Boxing Day is spent with family and friends with lots of food and fun.

Because it is the cook’s day off (traditionally speaking), mostly leftovers are on the menu. Food on Boxing Day usually includes left over turkey from the day before. This can be eaten in sandwiches or as a meal with vegetables, roast potatoes and all the trimmings. See turkey leftover recipes.

Some people like to have cold ham in a buffet style so the cook can also have a rest and spend time with the family. See how to set up a great buffet table.

If you’d like to make something special, here are more classic Boxing Day recipes:

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How is Boxing Day Celebrated Today?

Sporting events have taken place on Boxing Day for centuries. However, pugilism—fighting with gloved fists (boxing!)—is not normally one of them. Foxhunting was once a tradition among wealthy British on Boxing Day. In 2004, however, laws prohibited hunting with foxes and allowed hunts only in modified form.

Today’s more popular Boxing Day sporting activities include watching horse races and football matches against local rivals. Of course, another “sport” is the post-Christmas shopping as folks do their exchanges and returns and look for the best deals.

Charity and giving to the poorer among us is still a big part of Boxing Day.  Some folks participate in charity runs. The Boxing Day Dip is another charity event where people in fancy dress swim in the sea on Boxing Day. Can you imagine swimming in the frigid English Channel? 
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Boxing Day Trivia & Lore

  • On this day in 1776, George Washington crossed the ice-clogged Delaware River to attack Hessian forces in Trenton, New Jersey, at dawn.
  • On this day in 1963, two songs by The Beatles—”I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “I Saw Her Standing There”—were released in the United States.
  • Weather lore says, “If wind blows much on St. Stephen’s Day [December 26], the grape will be bad in the next year.”

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Reader Comments

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boxing day

if you ask 3 different canadiens what boxing day is you get 3 different answers.All they know is that its a day off work and don't care about the origins.I love Canada,they are so laid back