What Is Boxing Day?

If you're an American reader, you're probably not familiar with the holiday Boxing Day. This holiday takes place on December 26, the day after Christmas. It is usually characterized by time spent visiting family, eating Christmas day leftovers, and shopping for some great deals. But this bears little correlation to the historical day.

History of Boxing Day

The origins of Boxing Day are somewhat debated. The most likely story dates back hundreds of years to Britain. One version says that on December 26 wealthy families would give their servants and tradespeople a gratuity of either money or a "Christmas box" full of food and gifts to thank them for their service and for working all day Christmas Day. According to another tradition, churches would set up boxes to be filled with gifts on Christmas Day, which would then be distributed to the poor the following day. Regardless of which tradition is correct, each of these stories shows that Boxing Day had its origin in gift-giving to others.

Another name for Boxing Day is St. Stephen's Day to commemorate the death of the first Christian martyr, Stephen (Acts 7:54–60). This is the day mentioned in the Christmas carol "Good King Wenceslas":

Good King Wenceslas looked out On the feast of Stephen... When a poor man came in sight Gath'ring winter fuel...

"Bring me flesh and bring me wine Bring me pine logs hither Thou and I will see him dine When we bear him thither."

In this carol, when King Wenceslas sees a poor man struggling to collect fuel, he and his page bring gifts of food, drink, and fuel to his home. This carol highlights the giving theme of St. Stephen's Day, or Boxing Day.

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