What Shall We Do On Boxing Day?

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So, today is Boxing Day here in the U.K. – the day after Christmas Day that serves to stretch the holiday out just that little bit longer. The day is a national holiday, which most people traditionally spent with family and friends, extending the party mood with further feasting and drinking. But nowadays hundreds – or more probably, thousands – of people head off to the big stores to grab the bargains in the Boxing Day sales. When I was younger, the sales didn’t happen until after New Year’s Eve, and were aptly called the January Sales.

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I can’t say I like this new meaning of Boxing Day. I have lovely memories of the entire Christmas period being so much more peaceful. On Boxing Day years ago my parents would herd we three children into the car to visit relatives who lived some distance away – or we would be visited instead. I still can’t see the attraction of being trampled to death amidst crowds of people fighting to get at sale items. I suppose I’m just old fashioned (or just old!). But the ‘Sales Bug’ seems to feature in many countries on Boxing Day.

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Boxing Day at Eaton Center, Toronto, Canada, December 26 2007. Uploaded by Skeezix1000. Creative Commons

What I really want to think about today is the origin of the term ‘Boxing Day’. In Britain, a ‘Christmas Box’ is the name given to a Christmas present. The tradition of giving money and other gifts to the needy could well date back to the Middle Ages. It is thought that the ‘box’ could refer to the Alms Box that was placed inside churches to collect money for the poor. Still other sources tell us that the ‘box’ could refer to the custom in late Roman times whereby metal boxes were left outside of  churches to collect offerings connected to the Feast of St. Stephen – which fell on the same day as Boxing Day.

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Another tradition revolves around December 26th being ‘a day off” for servants in more affluent homes, when they would receive a Christmas box from their master. The servants would, in turn, go home and give Christmas boxes to their families. As always, there are several possible origins for the term, Boxing Day. The tradition regarding the custom of gift-giving to servants, however, is the more widely known.

Boxing Day has also become associated with a number of social activities (other than shopping!). In Britain in recent times, the day has become widely associated with sport. There are many horse racing meetings all over the country, as well as football (soccer) matches.

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Soccer match in the U.K

Fox hunting is still carried out in various places, although, since the ban on actually hunting foxes with dogs (2004) the dogs follow artificially laid trails. Some British people also show their daring by taking part in the activity of swimming in the freezing cold seas around our coasts.

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Fox Hunting: Boxing Day Meet. From geog.org.uk Author: Dave Ward

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A group of lads from Sleaford taking a dip on Boxing Day. The bright conditions disguise the easterly wind and the bitterly cold temperature. Geograph.org.uk Author: Ian Paterson Creative Commons

There are also various activities for charities, including fun-runs. Perhaps many of these sports originated from the need/desire to wear off some of the excess calories devoured on Christmas Day!

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Exmouth Boxing Day Fun Run geograph.org.uk Author: Sarah Charlesworth. Creative Commons

In some of the countries with British roots, such as Australia, Boxing Day sports also take place. But, in Australia, Christmas falls in the middle of summer, so the sports differ accordingly. Cricket is commonly played on Boxing Day . . .

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Pollock to Hussey . . . Australia v South Africa, Test Match, in Melbourne, Dec. 26 2005

. . . as well as swimming in the (warm!) seas. Picnics are enjoyed on the beach instead of the piping-hot roast dinners served in Britain, and outdoor dancing is enjoyed (at least it was – back in the1930s):

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Outdoor dancing at Shorncliffe, Australia: Boxing Day 1939 Wikimedia Commons

Well, tomorrow is an ‘ordinary’ day – although many people will still be off work and schools are closed until a few days into the new year. Perhaps we now have time to regain some sense of normality before the parties of New Year’s Eve loom!

About milliethom

I am a reader and writer of historical fiction with a keen interest in the Earth's history and all it involves, both physically and socially. I like nothing better than to be outdoors, especially in faraway places, and baking is something I do when my eyes need respite from my computer screen.
This entry was posted in Customs and Traditions and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to What Shall We Do On Boxing Day?

  1. maddmombetty says:

    Thanks for the education! 🙂

  2. Thanks, Millie—I have a good friend in Australia and several friends in the UK—never found out what Boxing Day was 🙂

    • milliethom says:

      I suppose most people don’t even think about it It’s just all part of the Christmas holidays. When I was a child I just assumed it was something to do with the sport of boxing – and I never thought to ask my mum and dad about it! There’s probably very little about British life that isn’t linked to some historic tradition or other!

  3. Mara Fields says:

    Ah Boxing Day. I’m an American and never knew about Boxing Day until I was traveling in Belize over the Christmas holidays. We were in some town in the interior for Christmas day, knowing there were no buses out. But what we DIDN’T know, is that there was such a thing as Boxing Day, and that no buses would run then either. Nor would there be restaurants open, or anything at all for us to do but sit in our very hot hotel watching old American 80’s movies (think Pretty in Pink) and eat refried bean and canned corned-beef sandwiches, washed down with warm coconut rum with pineapple we’d chopped with our pocket-knives. Sigh. Now THAT was a Boxing day to remember.

    • milliethom says:

      Thank you so much for sharing this, Mara. It seems you had a bit of a shock in the middle of your holiday! I know that many Americans have never heard of Boxing Day, as such, and that in many countries around the world there are strict rules about what can be done and so on. Things are much more lax in the UK nowadays, with most people intent on ‘sales shopping’! Still, I’m sure you enjoyed watching Pretty in Pink whilst eating bean and corned beef sandwiches! As you say, such memories will last. Have a happy new year.

  4. Mara Fields says:

    Happy New Year to you as well!! (and I should add, that even as we sat, confused and slightly sick from the disgusting sandwiches–we’d gotten the supplies from a young Jehovah’s Witness with a road-side stand who was open on the holidays ’cause she didn’t celebrate–we were giggling, giddy with the knowledge that it would make the best story ever!_

  5. Elsa Holland says:

    Great post Millie ❤ ❤

  6. Wonderful post dear! 🙂

  7. ChristineR says:

    Outdoor dancing? 😮 Probably replaced by beach parties these days. I don’t have any traditions associated with Boxing Day, and cannot think of anything worse than taking part in frenzied shopping. I reckon the one about the servants and tradesmen getting their Christmas boxes sounds the most feasible origin.

    • milliethom says:

      What a lovely old photo of the outdoor dancing, though? I love old photos. They tell us so much. I’m glad your opinion on manic shopping tallies with mine. The very thought scares me to death! The idea of servants and Christmas boxes does seem to be the moore widely accepted, from what I’ve read. It does sound quite feasible, too. So many traditions! Thank you for your thoughts on this, Christine.

      • ChristineR says:

        I love old photos, too. I wander around in the Francis Frith collection online now and then, and there are terrific photos on a Channel Islands site (one of my husband’s ancestors was a tailor there) and love all our own Australian photo archives online.

      • milliethom says:

        I know you love old photos, from your blog. Your ancestors certainly seem to crop up everywhere! I think that’s absolutely great. Perhaps a couple of them were on that dance floor in 1939! I’ve never heard of the Francis Frith collection, but I’ll have a look now you’ve mentioned it.

  8. Fun! The day after Christmas used to be a big shopping day for Christmas sales for me, but I really don’t need anything anymore so I don’t usually go out. This year I think Monday is mostly a holiday because Christmas fell on Sunday, but, of course, stores, restaurants, etc. are all back open. It does make for a nice long weekend here in the States. Hope you’re enjoying your holidays!

    • milliethom says:

      Thank you, Diane. Christmas passes so quickly, so a few extra days are always welcome. I’ve never been one for crowds, which can completely spoil shopping trips for me, but I know many people just love the sales.
      Hope all is well with you, Diane and you are recovering well. I’ve been out of touch with so many people these past weeks. Much love to you and your family. 🙂

  9. thank you for your telling of these wonderful traditions and stories!! There is also the story of the St. Stephen’s Day murders in Ireland.

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