Why is Boxing Day called Boxing Day? Where does the day after Christmas get its name, UK traditions explained

Boxing Day is known for cold turkey sandwiches, long walks, pub visits, sales and football fixtures - but why it is called Boxing Day?

The festive season can be a busy time. With a long run to Christmas Day, Boxing Day is often second to 25 December activities. Yet with so much going on - from shopping sales to football fixtures - there’s plenty to be doing as many emerge from their Christmas cocoons.

In the wake of opening presents, clinking of glasses, munching on turkey and, this year the first King’s speech, there is another bank holiday to enjoy. It’s also one of the most popular days to return Christmas gifts to the stores. But why is Boxing Day so called? Let’s find out...

Why is Boxing Day called Boxing Day?

In spite of its name, there is no link to the sport of fisticuffs, repackaging of presents or even stuffing all your prized possessions into boxes ready for a big house move. Instead, its name stems from charitable acts from the Victorian age.

Traditionally, the day after Christmas Day was a day off for servants who would often receive a special festive box from their masters in recognition of their loyal service. Having upheld their duties on Christmas Day, the servants would return home to see their families with boxes of gifts, sometimes money and leftover food from their masters.

Tag with text BOXING DAY and gift box on table (Africa Studio - stock.adobe.com)Tag with text BOXING DAY and gift box on table (Africa Studio - stock.adobe.com)
Tag with text BOXING DAY and gift box on table (Africa Studio - stock.adobe.com)

The theory has stood the test of time thanks, largely, to Charles Dickens’ tale of Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1843 novel A Christmas Carol. This gesture from employer to employee can still be considered ongoing, with some employers distributing Christmas bonuses to its staff to this day.

Any other reason why Boxing Day is so called?

Another theory comes from churches that would collect charitable donations - often money - from parishioners during the Advent season and store them in alms boxes. The boxes would then be opened by clergy members at Christmas and the contents distributed to those less fortunate the day after, on Boxing Day.

The sentiment remains to this day, with many churches passing around a box for people to put envelopes of cash into for charitable causes over the festive season.

Is there a religious connection to Boxing Day?

The day, much like Christmas, has religious connections and is the celebration of St. Stephen who was the first Christian martyr known for acts of charity. Ireland and the Catalonia region of Spain celebrate Boxing Day as Saint Stephen’s Day and is a big part of a season that promotes the act of giving and selfless deeds.

Countries such as Germany, Poland and Hungary go a little further and celebrate the 26 December as a second Christmas Day. Around the UK, Boxing Day remains a special time of the year for so many people who make the effort to see friends and loved ones over the festive season.

What are some Boxing Day traditions?

Traditions can vary from household to household but largely rotate around spending time with those closest to you, either in person or via video calls. The traditional Boxing Day football is scheduled to still go ahead, with the hope of some spectators being allowed into the grounds, as well as the chance to watch on TV.

Cricket loving nation Australia celebrate by hosting an annual match between their national team and a touring side at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, known as the Boxing Day Test. In 2022, for the first time in 14 years, Australia will host South Africa.

Others opt for a dash to find a bargain in the Boxing Day sales. Scenes in previous years have seen queues outside of UK retailers’ doors and shopping centres.

When is Boxing Day 2021?

Boxing Day, the 26 December, falls on a Sunday this year, meaning the following Monday and Tuesday (27 and 28 December) are bank holidays.