A brief history of Boxing Day, a UK Christmas tradition | The Real Word

Celebrated annually on the 26th December, Boxing Day is a Christmas tradition for those living in the UK, and other countries that previously formed part of the British Empire. But how did this holiday begin, and does it actually have anything to do with boxing? 

For the British, Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians (and other countries that have existing or former ties to the UK), Boxing Day is a treasured part of the Christmas holiday. Of course, for those unfamiliar with the tradition, the first many ask is ‘what does it have to do with boxing?’. 

The short answer to that is absolutely nothing. There are a few theories as to how boxing day began, the most common amongst them dating back around 800 years to the Middle Ages. During this period, it was common practice for churches to open alms boxes on the day after Christmas, distributing all the money inside amongst the poor. To this day some churches still follow this practice, whilst many around the world take part in charitable events or give back to their local community on Boxing Day.

Another commonly believed theory is that on the day after Christmas, servants of the wealthy used to be allowed to head home to visit loved ones and have some well deserved time off. Wealthy masters would traditionally gift their workers with a Christmas box, containing food, gifts and maybe even a bonus, to thank them for all their work. This idea of a Christmas box also lends itself to yet another theory, whereby tradespeople such as milkmen and butchers would spend the days after Christmas collecting money or gifts left to them, to thank them for their service all year.

RELATED CONTENT: What is the most popular Christmas food around the world?

As with most theories, it’s likely that all of these different traditions contributed to the naming of Boxing Day in some way. So that’s why Boxing Day exists, but what about how it’s celebrated?

Boxing Day in the UK

The modern day notion of Boxing Day is less about gifting boxes and more about shopping. In fact in the UK, the day after Christmas is one of the busiest shopping days of the entire year (other contenders for this accolade include Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the last Saturday before Christmas). Most retailers slash their prices for the annual Boxing Day sales, which now start around Christmas Eve and last well into the new year. Visit any high street in the UK on the 26th December and you’ll likely find crowds of shoppers, whilst elsewhere in the UK Brits recognise the day with crazy antics including freezing cold swims in the English Channel, bridge jumping into icy cold rivers, and plenty of football.

GET INSPIRED: AMAZING BRITAIN SUMMER 2020

Shopping centre in Toronto

Boxing Day in New Zealand

The 26th December in the Southern Hemisphere brings with it beautiful weather and a desire to be outdoors. In New Zealand, many families make the most of the sunshine by heading to the beach or a local lake on Boxing Day, whilst others head out hiking or for a picnic. For those living in Auckland, the day is recognised with the annual Ellerslie Boxing Day Races, which have taken place at the Auckland Racing Club every 26th December for over 150 years.

horse racing

Boxing Day in Australia

For those living down under, the day after Christmas is all about the sport. The annual Boxing Day test match between Australia’s national team and an opposing side is a tradition many across the country tune in to watch, whilst those living in and around Sydney will head to the coast to watch the annual Sydney to Hobart yacht race. Thought to be one of the most challenging yacht races in the world, the event starts in Sydney Harbour and ends in Hobart, the capital of Australian island Tasmania.

cricket in australia

Boxing Day in the Bahamas

In the sun drenched Bahamas, the day after Christmas is all about carrying on the party. In a tradition that dates back to the 16th or 17th century, revellers gather on the 26th December to take part in the annual Junkanoo Festival. A large, colourful, all singing and all dancing street parade, those involved adorn magnificent costumes, headdresses and masks, whilst others party in the streets whilst watching the procession go by. In downtown Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, there’s even a museum dedicated to Junkanoo where you can see costumes from the festivals past.

For all those celebrating on the 26th December, we wish you a happy and restful Boxing Day, and to all our readers, a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous new year!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

  • Be the first to sign up for our brand new newsletter, coming soon…

  • Travel news, itineraries and inspiration delivered straight to your inbox.