What does Boxing Day actually celebrate?

If something is good, it’s always nice to have a little bit more of it – so one of the nicer Christmas customs in the UK is that little bit of extra celebration called Boxing Day.

Boxing Day is the day after Christmas. It is a UK National Holiday so if December 26 falls on a weekend, the following Monday becomes a holiday. During particularly lucky years, when Christmas falls on a Saturday and Boxing Day falls on Sunday, an instant four-day weekend is created.

What does Boxing Day actually celebrate?

That’s a good question, but nobody really knows the answer. There are of course, loads of theories. Here are just a few of the suggested origins of Boxing Day:

  • A day for the servants – It may have been a day when the household gave a Christmas Box to people who had worked for them during the year. Or, it may have been the day when the servants, who had to work on Christmas Day, visited their families, carrying boxes of leftover Christmas food, leaving the servantless household to eat box lunches.
  • A day for charity – Some say that traditionally, churches opened their alms boxes the day after Christmas and distributed money to the poor on Boxing Day.
  • A feudal obligation Some suggest that in the middle ages, the lord of the manor distributed boxes of household goods and tools to his serfs, as was his obligation, on Boxing Day.

However far back the Christmas custom of Boxing Day extends, it was only made a legal holiday in England and Wales in the mid 19th century by Queen Victoria. In Scotland, Boxing Day was not a national holiday until the late 20th century.

How do people celebrate Boxing Day?

Whatever its origins, Boxing Day is distinct from other UK Christmas season celebrations in that it is completely secular, given over to visiting, outdoor activities and shopping – offices may be closed but the shops and malls are busy.

Traditionally, people drop in on friends and more distant relations to exchange small gifts, sample a slice of traditional Christmas cake or have a light meal.

The day is also given over to spectator and participation sports. Contrary to what some people say, Boxing Day is not named for boxing matches. But there are loads of football matches, racing meets and all kinds of major public and private sporting events on the day.

Fox Hunts on Boxing Day

Although fox hunting with hounds was banned in Scotland in 2002 and in the rest of the the UK in 2004, under the law a kind  of fox hunting on horseback is still allowed. The pack of hounds is allowed to flush the fox out into open ground where it can be shot. Boxing Day is a traditional time for this event and the spectacle of hunters in their red hunting jackets – called “pinks” – riding to the hounds can still be seen.

A Day for Eccentricities

Boxing Day also seems to be an occasion for silliness. There are loads of swims and dips in the icy waters around Britain – often in fancy dress – rubber ducky races, beagling – a sort of mock fox hunt on foot. A typical Boxing Day line up of events always includes a chance for British eccentrics to let their hair down.

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