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Monday, 26 December 2016

Why is it called Boxing Day and Why Do We Celebrate It?

Hunters and horses gather in Eltisley, Cambridgeshire for the traditional Boxing Day Meet last year.
Hunters and horses gather in Eltisley, Cambridgeshire for the traditional Boxing Day Meet last year. CREDIT: DAVID ROSE

When is Boxing Day?

Boxing Day occurs every year on December 26th. It's a national holiday in the UK and Ireland. If the day after Christmas falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the following Monday is designated as the official public holiday.
This year, Boxing Day falls on a Monday. 
December 26th is also the feast day of Saint Stephen, the patron saint of horses, which is why Boxing Day has come to be associated with horse racing and fox hunting.

Why is it called Boxing Day?

According to some Boxing Day can be traced back to the Victorian era when churches often displayed a box into which their parishioners put donations.
Also in Britain, on the day after Christmas Day, servants of the wealthy were given time off to visit their families because their services were required for the Christmas Day celebrations of their employers.
They were therefore allowed the following day for their own observance of the holiday and each servant would be handed a box to take home, containing gifts, bonuses and sometimes leftover food.
Samuel Pepys 
Samuel Pepys mentions the 'Christmas box' in his diary. CREDIT: JOHN ROBERTSON
It was also customary for tradespeople to collect 'Christmas boxes' of presents or money on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year.
Samuel Pepys mentions the 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."
Five years later Pepys was not feeling so generous. Complaining in a December 28th entry from 1668: "Called up by drums & trumpets; these things & boxes having cost me much money this Christmas."

Where else is the day celebrated?

Boxing Day is observed only in the United Kingdom, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and some other Commonwealth nations.
The holiday was not perpetuated by the English in the American colonies.

Irish Boxing Day

Boxing Day is really 'St Stephen's Day' in Ireland, dedicated to a saint who was stoned to death for believing in Jesus.
'Wren Boys' were notorious for blackening their faces stoning wrens to death. They would then carry their catch around the town knocking on doors and asking for money. This distasteful act has now stopped, but the Wrens Boys still dress up and parade around town but collecting money for charity.
Boxing Day hunt
The 2004 ban on foxhunting put a stop to the practice, although certain modified forms of hunting foxes with hounds are still within the law. CREDIT: DAVID ROSE/TMG

Fox Hunting used to be a Boxing Day thing...

Hunts were a Boxing Day tradition but the 2004 ban on foxhunting put an end to all that. Despite this, 10 years later 250,000 people still regularly turn out to support hunting
Certain modified forms of hunting foxes with hounds are still within the law and hundreds of Boxing Day Meets take place every year. 

Shopping the new blood sport

What was once a day of relaxation and family time has now become a holy day of consumerism. The 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 start on Boxing Day.
Last year, Christmas Day itself emerged as one of the most popular days for online shopping, with consumers buying products in the afternoon - often after not receiving their desired gifts.
Boxing Day shoppers on Oxford Street, London.
Boxing Day shoppers hunting for bargains on Oxford Street, London. CREDIT: HEATHCLIFF O'MALLEY

Activities on Boxing Day

Boxing Daywas a day on which families continued their Christmas celebrations by venturing out of their homes to enjoy entertainments including pantomimes, plays, variety shows, exhibitions, and sporting events such as football matches and hunts.
In recent times, the day has become synonymous with many sports. Horse racing is particularly popular with meets all over the country. A full programme of football fixtures is also played 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. 

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