Boxing Day is celebrated on the day after Christmas in Great Britain and most areas settled by the English including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The U.S. is the major exception. Some might say it’s the day when we pick up the boxes and wrappings from the day before, or return unwanted Christmas presents, though that’s not quite right.
The etymology of the term “boxing” has been dated to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown. Apparently the holiday developed because servants were required to work on Christmas Day, and took the following day off. As the servants prepared to leave to visit their families, their superiors or employers would present them with a “Christmas box” containing gifts, bonuses, and leftover food.
Another theory as to Boxing Day’s origins can be found in the song “Good King Wenceslas.” According to the Christmas carol, Wenceslas, who was Duke of Bohemia in the early 10th century, was surveying his land on Saint Stephen’s Day – December 26 – when he saw a poor man gathering wood in the middle of a snowstorm. The good king gathered up some surplus food and wine and carried them through the blizzard to the peasant’s door.
The alms-giving tradition has always been closely associated with the Christmas season – hence the canned-food drives and Salvation Army bell ringers – and an “Alms Box” was typically placed in every church on Christmas Day, into which worshippers left a gift for the poor of the parish. The contents of the alms box would then be distributed on the day after Christmas, which could be why that day became known as Boxing Day.
As time went by, Boxing Day gift-giving expanded from presents for servants and charity to the poor, to include all those who had rendered a service during the previous year. This tradition survives today as people give presents to tradesmen, mail carriers, paper boys, doormen, porters, and others who have helped them. Learn more about Boxing Day at http://resources.woodlands-junior.kent.sch.uk/customs/xmas/boxingday.html