Learn the True Story of How Boxing Day Gets Its Name

Every year on the 26th of December, the day after Christmas, Boxing Day is a holiday celebrated throughout the UK and the commonwealth. If you’re not from the UK, Australia, Canada, South-Africa or New Zealand you might assume Boxing Day would involve a pair of gloves, silky shorts, a ring and plenty of punches when in fact it has nothing to do with the sport of boxing. Instead, the term comes from a time when wealthy and affluent people would box up gifts to give to the destitute.

The origins

There’s no one universally agreed upon origin story for boxing day but each tale helps us unpack the meaning behind the day and its history.

Some claim that Boxing Day acquired its name from the custom of the aristocracy boxing up gifts to distribute to the poor while Queen Victoria was on the throne in the 1800s. While servants of aristocrats were expected to work on Christmas Day, the next day became much like a holiday bonus for them, with their masters filling up boxes with Christmas leftovers, money and gifts. The servants would then take the day off and share the gift boxes with their loved ones.

Another version is that the term came from alms boxes, which were put in churches to collect gifts for the poor. On the feast of St. Stephen, a Christian martyr noted for benevolent gestures, church members would distribute these monies to the destitute on December 26. St. Stephen is so revered in Ireland that Boxing Day is celebrated as St. Stephen's Day.

The carol "Good King Wenceslas" provides yet another clue to the holiday's origin. The Duke of Bohemia in the 10th century is the subject of this hymn. On St. Stephen's Day, he saw a poor man attempting to gather wood in the midst of a blizzard on his lands. This event affected him so much that he gathered food and wine and delivered it to his front door, inspiring a tradition.

It's impossible to say exactly when Boxing Day started because there are so many conflicting stories. What they all have in common, though, are elements of generosity, gift-giving, and festivities, which have endured and are prevalent in how this holiday is celebrated today.

Modern day Boxing Day

For the most part, today's Boxing Day isn't about ancient customs or handing out loads of gifts. Instead, it's a national holiday and a day for leisure and relaxation (though many stores do have "Boxing Day Sales" much like Black Friday in the US). After all, Christmas is done, and there's nothing left to do but eat leftovers, play with the toys you unwrapped the day before, and relax. Many Boxing Day festivities take place in the UK, including fox hunts that attract thousands of spectators, sporting events, Santa-themed dips in the sea, fun runs, charity events, and parades.

Speaking of sporting events, while it still has nothing to do with the sport of boxing (missed opportunity honestly), It has now become synonymous with watching football. Prior to the invention of the television, Christmas Day included a full schedule of football matches for spectators to watch after they had dined. However, attitudes against playing sports on Christmas shifted over the 1950s, and the last Christmas football match was held in 1957. Since then, Boxing Day has become a must-see event for football fans in the UK and around the world. 

In the spirit of the holiday season and the ancient customs of generosity and gift giving on Boxing Day, we at Starpro are offering a site wide Christmas sale on all premium boxing & martial arts gear so you can get yourself or the boxing enthusiast in your life the perfect gift this year. Even though it has nothing to do with boxing! Imagine that. Happy holidays!