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Wondering what Boxing Day is all about? Here's the history of the post-holiday event that everyone talks about.

Ho, ho, ho! What is Boxing day? Unwrap the hidden history

It’s happened to all of us. We’re talking to a friend near the holiday season, and the words slip out of their mouth: “What are you doing for Boxing Day?” You smile and answer politely, but inside you are haunted by the brutal reality . . . that you have absolutely no idea what Boxing Day actually is

Thankfully, you’re in luck. We have the deets on where this holiday comes from and why, in some parts of the world, you get an extra day off after Christmas. Read on to discover the rich history behind the national holiday.

Boxing Day’s origin.

Boxing Day, a holiday primarily celebrated in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, has a somewhat muddled origin story. The term itself can be traced back to 1833, a couple years before British author Charles Dickens famously referred to it in his novel The Pickwick Papers

Though the meaning of the term is ultimately unknown, many theories conclude the holiday is connected to charity. One theory suggested that many centuries ago, December 26th was the day lords & aristocrats gave out “Christmas boxes” to their employees, who were made to work on Christmas Day. The boxes were filled with little gifts, cash bonuses, and leftovers.

Another theory suggested Boxing Day originated from alms boxes placed in churches during Advent season, which were intended to be filled with monetary donations. Members of the clergy would distribute the money to the less fortunate on December 26th, during the feast of St. Stephen – as mentioned in the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas”. 

Finally, Boxing Day might refer to a nautical tradition. Ships would carry a sealed box containing money for good luck when setting sail, and, if the voyage was successful, the box would be given to a priest, who would give the contents to the poor.

What do people do on Boxing Day?

A lot of people use Boxing Day as an opportunity to celebrate with family & friends, especially those who they didn’t get to see on Christmas Day. Some might even go as far as to enjoy traditional Boxing Day food, like baked ham, pease pudding, mince pies with brandy butter.

People can also celebrate Boxing Day with shopping. Stores offer deals on Boxing Day, though it is not as popular a holiday as Black Friday

Watching sports is also popular on Boxing Day. England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland have football and rugby matches, and Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa hold cricket matches.

Boxing Day around the world

In Australia, Boxing Day is known as Proclamation Day. It marks the day when South Australia was proclaimed to be a British province by Captain John Hindmarsh in 1836. While Hindmarsh first read the proclamation on December 28th, the day is usually still celebrated December 26th. As a public holiday, Proclamation Day is celebrated on the first Monday after Christmas, which is the 28th this year. 

In the Bahamas, Boxing Day is traditionally celebrated with a lively, colorful street parade called a Junkanoo. People dance in the street to festive music and wear extravagant costumes. A museum in Nassau is dedicated to these costumes, and tourists can see Junkanoo festive wear from years past there. 

This year, Boxing Day will certainly look different. According to the Associated Press, a new strain of COVID-19 is reported to be spreading through the UK & South Africa. UK prime minister Boris Johnson recently announced new travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders, most likely grounding people during Boxing Day. Similarly, the EU & Canada have strictly limited travel from the UK to their countries. 

Are you celebrating Boxing Day, and if so, will it be the same or different this year? Let us know in the comments!

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