So this is Boxing Day

The origins of Boxing day have nothing to do with boxing, or used wrapping paper or regifting unwanted presents and instead are related to almsgiving traditions

Boxing day - although the name itself may evoke mental images of empty Christmas gift containers, the 26th December has nothing to do with receiving and everything to do with giving.

In fact there is consensus amongst historians that the origins of Boxing day are unrelated to boxing, or with putting used wrapping paper into boxes, or with boxing up unwanted presents, Boxing Day is a day of almsgiving, which evolved in the Victorian era into a  “holiday, on which post-men, errand-boys, and servants of various kinds expect to receive a Christmas-box,” morphing into a day of rampant consumerism only recently.

The traditional way to celebrate Boxing Day is to give money and other gifts to charitable institutions, persons in need and people in service jobs. The origins of the practise are unclear: it may date from the Middle Ages or have begun with the British upper classes, who would present Christmas gifts in boxes to their servants on December 26, hence the term “boxing”.

Others suggest that the term is related to boxes of alms given to the poor by churches on the feast of St. Stephen, although the earliest known use of the term Boxing Day was in 1833 when the above practices were already fading into disuse.

Christmas carols talk of how the Good Wenceslas (or Wenceslaus) of Bohemia, today Czechia,  went on a journey, braving harsh winter weather to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen.

The primarily British tradition of Boxing Day was later adopted in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, where it has become primarily a day for shopping deals and sporting events. It is virtually unknown in the US.

The 26th December is holiday in many Western European countries, where it is treated as a  “second day of Christmas”. In the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition, St Stephen’s Day is celebrated on December 27th and is not associated with Christmas boxes or almsgiving, but with Mass and a great deal of eating and drinking.

Malta has its own way of celebrating the day after Christmas, which is in keeping with the original spirit of the day - L-Istrina, which has become a major charity fundraising event in aid of the Community Chest Fund.


More in Christmas