The Untold But True Meaning Of “December 26th” Boxing Day – Why Is It Called Boxing Day?

This article provides an insight on the true meaning of boxing day. You will definitely be exposed to facts you never knew about boxing day. Read it!

The Untold But True Meaning Of “December 26th” Boxing Day – Why Is It Called Boxing Day?
First of all, Boxing Day has nothing to do with boxing. Having said that, so many people do not understand the phrase “Boxing Day”. To some it means a day after Christmas while to some it just means 26th December of a particular year.

Some even say its a day where and I quote “If one is killed while fighting, the law cannot be used against the person”. This was actually the idea used in Hollywood movie “The Purge” but was twisted in a different way.

Frankly, Nigerians have always celebrated what they don’t know or understand and have no need to partake in its celebration. It might interest you to know that Boxing day has a trace of Master & Servant (Slavery) embedded in it. Below is the true meaning of boxing day, its origin and the untold story about it….

What is Boxing Day?

Arguments come thick and fast as to why, and I hope, like me, you find the answers below interesting. But firstly, I must say, it has nothing to do with the sport of boxing. The most straightforward answer would be that we are a little greedy (here) in the UK and Ireland in wanting a more extended holiday.

It is not enough for us to have only Christmas Day celebrations, we have added to this another event called Boxing Day. But the answer is not that simple. Boxing Day is a national Bank Holiday, a day to spend with family and friends and to eat up all the leftovers of Christmas Day. The origins of the day, however, are steeped in history and tradition.

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Why is it Called Boxing Day?

Arguments abound on the origins of the name Boxing Day. All the answers below are valid, so maybe it is one, or even all of them.

A ‘Christmas Box’ in Britain is a name for a Christmas present. Boxing Day was traditionally a day off for servants and the day when they received a ‘Christmas Box’ from the master. The servants would also go home on Boxing Day to give ‘Christmas Boxes’ to their families.

A box to collect money for the poor traditionally and placed in Churches on Christmas day and opened the next day – Boxing Day. Great sailing ships when setting sail would have a sealed box containing money on board for good luck. Were the voyage a success, the box was given to a priest, opened at Christmas and the contents then given to the poor.

When is Boxing Day?

Boxing Day is the 26th December and is a national holiday in the UK and Ireland.

Activities on Boxing Day

Boxing Day is a time to spend with family or friends, usually those not seen on Christmas Day itself. In recent times, the day has become synonymous with many sports. Horse racing is particularly popular with meets all over the country. Many top football teams also play on Boxing Day.

Boxing Day is also a time when the British show their eccentricity by taking part in all kinds of silly activities. These include bizarre traditions including swimming the icy cold English Channel, fun runs, and charity events.

However, the change of government in the UK in 2015 has once again raised the debate of reinstating foxhunting – watch this space.

The New Boxing Day Sport – Shopping

Another ‘sport’ to emerge in recent years is shopping. Sadly, what was once a day of relaxation and family time sees the start of the sales. Sales used to start in January, post-New Year, but the desire to grab a bargain and for shops to off-load stock means many now begin on Boxing Day.

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Boxing Day in Ireland

In Ireland, Boxing Day is also known as “St. Stephen’s Day” named after the Saint stoned to death for believing in Jesus. In Ireland on Boxing, there was once a barbaric act carried out by the so-called “Wren Boys.” These boys would dress up and go out, and stone wren birds to death then carry their catch around the town knocking on doors and asking for money, the stoning representing what had happened to St Stephen. This terrible tradition has now stopped, thank goodness, but the Wrens Boys still dress up but instead parade around town and collect money for charity.

Food and Drink on Boxing Day

With guests often popping in for a snack or tipple the food and drink on Boxing Day are more relaxed than Christmas Day. Lunch will usually be a buffet or leftovers from Christmas lunch. Baked Ham is a popular Boxing Day meat and of course, mince pies with brandy butter or a slice of Christmas cake are almost obligatory.

Origin of Boxing Day

You’ve probably heard a whole number of different tales about why December 26 is called Boxing Day – but this is where the name actually comes from. It’s not because people get rid of all of their boxes from Christmas Day or even because unwanted presents are boxed up – its origins are from much earlier.

In recent times it has been heavily associated with shopping sales, football matches, horse racing and even fox hunting however the name is nothing to do with any of those. The Oxford English Dictionary states that the earliest mention of Boxing Day in Britain was in the 1830s.

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They define it as “the first week-day after Christmas-day, observed as a holiday on which post-men, errand-boys, and servants of various kinds expect to receive a Christmas-box”. The giving of boxes refers to the practice of collecting for the poor with boxes, which were opened the day after Christmas, which is also St Stephen’s Day although what these boxes were actually for is debated.

When this practice first started is also disputed as some say it can be traced back to the Victorian era, but others say it goes back much further. There are claims it dates back to the Middle Ages and even the Roman Empire, once Christianity had arrived.

Though the timing of its origins may be disputed, it was the Victorians who fleshed out the meaning of Boxing Day as in 1871 it became a bank holiday. It was around this time, as a result of the growing tradition, that wealthy people gave their servants time off to visit their families. They were handed a box to take home, containing gifts, bonuses and sometimes leftover food.

A separate tradition was for tradespeople to be given ‘Christmas boxes’ of presents or money on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year. Samuel Pepys mentions this practice in a diary entry from December 19th 1663: “Thence by coach to my shoemaker’s and paid all there, and gave something to the boys’ box against Christmas.”

It is primarily a British tradition, though it is also practised in countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada. It is not observed in the US. – Question is, why do Nigerians observe it?


The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a communication researcher with several years of lecturing experience in Nigerian universities.

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