In the UK, Boxing Day became a holiday during the reign of Queen Victoria, its earliest mention in writing dating from the 1830’s.
In reality, however, its roots go much further back. In Medieval times, lords would pay their servants with boxed packages on the day after Christmas for the work they had done during the year, and later, employers began giving their workers gifts on that day. Additionally, churches would collect offerings in boxes on December 26th and give the proceeds to the poor.
Today, Boxing day has become a time of major sports events, much as Thanksgiving Day is in the United States. The most traditional sport on this day has traditionally been fox hunting, and a picture of a redcoat on horseback surrounded by white hounds poised to chase down a red fox is a veritable symbol of Boxing Day.
Fortunately for the foxes, killing the fox in a fox hunt has been banned. Now the chase is done just for fun, and some people with a bit of humour even chase human beings instead. Horse races, soccer games, cricket tournaments, and rugby matches are also all popular on Boxing Day.
Boxing Day is also the day when the post-Christmas shopping season officially begins in the UK, and huge sales are on everywhere. Stores often open very early, at 5am or earlier, and shoppers are already lined up waiting at the doors, hoping to grab the best bargains and maybe win a door prize. More recently, sales are running from just before Christmas up to New Year’s Eve, and this is being called “Boxing Week”.
Finally, there are those who use Boxing Day as a day to recover from the hectic Christmas season and relax at home with friends and family. Many also go for long walks in the country or visit city parks. Christmas leftovers are eaten as well, though some make a new festive meal just for Boxing Day.
There are some other countries that also observe Boxing Day, but they are all British Commonwealth countries or former British colonies that adopted the holiday from the UK. For example, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, and Bahamas all keep Boxing Day.
Boxing Day coincides with the Feast of St. Stephen, which is a feast-day in both the UK and many other European nations such as Ireland, Germany, Italy, Finland, and parts of Spain and France. St. Stephen’s Day is a “church holiday” that commemorates the life and death of Christianity’s first recorded martyr.
Events and activities
A few activities to take part in should you choose to visit the UK on Boxing Day Weekend are:
- Get in on the numerous sports events going on. Two to try to attend are: the horse race known as the King George VI Chase that takes place at Kempton Park Racecourse in the town of Surrey and the demolition-derby-style auto race at London’s Wimbledon Stadium, which is usually used as a greyhound track.
- If you are healthy enough and brave enough to try it, do what many do on Boxing Day, and go for a swim in the icy-cold ocean. Then huddle around a campfire on the beach and chat with the other participants. Many of these events also raise money for charity, so you may want to make a donation, even if your money is wet and salty.
- Go shopping in London. Some of the best neighbourhoods to shop include Westfield, Covent Garden, and West End, but departments stores and small shops are found all over the city. On Kings Road and Bond Street, you will find chic boutiques and luxury outlets. On Oxford and Regent Streets, you will find many of the best bargains. On Tottenham Court Road, electronics abound. The more you know where to shop for what, the better you’ll do, but sales are everywhere on Boxing Day.
- Get in the post-Christmas spirit and give time or money to a charity. Churches make collections for the needy on Boxing Day, food drives are common, soup kitchens are busy, and many also donate blood. Definitely be sure to tip anyone who provides you with service since that’s the epitome of how Boxing Day got started.