Beyond great telly: The history of Boxing Day

Keswick Boxing Day hunt, Keswick Market Square, Cumbria 1962

Keswick Boxing Day hunt, Keswick Market Square, Cumbria, 1962 (Credit: Phillip Capper / Flickr)

While Boxing Day has become more known over the years for some great telly in the UK, many look upon it as just a one-day extension of one’s time off during the holiday season.

In reality, however, there is a lot of history and tradition to the day-after-Christmas celebration.

The origin of the name “Boxing Day” (also known as St. Stephen’s Day in Ireland) is the topic of endless argument as to whether or not it’s a nautical reference, a charity reference — or just an odd name for the practice of eating up Christmas Day leftovers with family and friends and returning gifts you don’t want.

It was during the period of Queen Victoria’s reign (1837–1901) that Boxing Day evolved. It became an occasion for church parishioners to deposit donations into a box that was put out by the clergyman. The money in the boxes was given to the poor.

But for the sake of argument, I’m going with a much more romanticized origin story. A “Christmas box” in Britain is a name for a Christmas present. Boxing Day was traditionally a day off for servants, and it was the day when they received a Christmas box from the master. The servants would also go home on Boxing Day to give Christmas boxes to their families.

More so today than ever, Boxing Day is synonymous with sport. Horse racing is particularly popular with meets all over the country, and many top football teams also play on Boxing Day. December 26 also has been know to be a time when the British show a bit of eccentricity by taking part in all kinds of silly activities, such as swimming the icy cold English Channel.

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Probably the biggest sport of all, however, is the sport of shopping. Not confined to just the UK, sales across the globe used to start in January, post-New Year. Unfortunately, the combined desire to grab a bargain and shops trying to off-load stock now means the traditional bank holiday of Boxing Day has given way to the biggest “sport” of all.

Whatever the origin, we hope you had a fabulous Boxing Day and wish you an early happy beginning to 2019!

In: Odds & Sods