When Americans first try to read up on British Christmas traditions, they’re often confused by Boxing Day, which always falls the day after Christmas. It’s not a religious holiday and there’s nothing to actually celebrate. So, what exactly is it and what is it for? Well, fear not, we will try to lift the shroud of mystery and show you what it’s all about.
It’s Basically An Extra Day Off
The main thing that sets Boxing Day apart from all the other holiday is that it’s basically another day off after Christmas. In Britain, Boxing Day is always a Bank Holiday which means banks are closed are most retail stores are required to have limited hours (usually up 6 hours open by law). In the USA, many people go right back to work the day after Christmas. Having another day to recoup the madness of the holidays is so much more civilized.
Started Off As A Servants Holiday
There are competing theories for the origins of the term, none of which is definitive. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the earliest appearances from Britain in the 1830s, defining 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.” In Britain, it was a custom for tradespeople to collect “Christmas boxes” of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year. This custom is linked to an older British tradition: since they would have to wait on their masters on Christmas Day, the servants of the wealthy were allowed the next day to visit their families. The employers would give each servant a box to take home containing gifts, bonuses, and sometimes leftover food. Now, it’s a holiday for everyone, but gifts are no longer exchanged.
Famous For Its Sales
In America we have Black Friday Sales, in Britain, they have Boxing Day Sales, which is usually the biggest shopping day of the year in the UK as people rush to the stores to snag great deals and return the gifts they didn’t want. It’s a great way for retailers to clear out the stock they have leftover from the Christmas shopping binge. The deals have moved online in recent years, but you will find Britain’s stores and malls (shopping centers) heaving on Boxing Day, but only for the 6 hours they’re allowed to be open. Deals can be had if you can brave the crowds.
Boxing Day Lunch
Sunday Roast is a venerable British tradition, and many families will extend it to include Boxing Day, even if it’s not on a Sunday. Sometimes they’ll eat a roast, or they’ll eat a lunch of leftovers from the previous day’s Christmas Feast. Pubs are usually open, so you can go get a nice meal as well. It’s a time for families and friends to spend the day together without the pressures of work and school.
A Day for a Stroll
Many of Britain’s tourist attractions that are usually closed for the winter will open up for the period between Christmas and New Year’s. This includes many famous Stately Homes that will have special opening hours. So, Boxing day is a great day to go out for a walk in Britain’s beautiful countryside and enjoy some famous buildings while you’re at it.
A Day For Hunting
Boxing Day is also one of the main days in the hunting calendar for hunts in the UK and US, with most hunts (both mounted foxhound or harrier packs and foot packs of beagles or bassets) holding meets, often in town or village centres. It’s not an uncommon sight to see the hunts streaming across the English countryside on this day, and many people will watch the meets as spectators. Though fox hunting is now illegal, they are still able to practice the tradition as long as no foxes are harmed or killed (usually the dogs are sent after a scented dummy).
Simply put, Boxing Day is a day to enjoy the joys of the mid-winter break from the rat race. To eat good food, get a good deal or spend time with your friends and family. It’s certainly a lesson we can all learn from!