Boxing day has a long history; one that we do not share with our neighbours to the south.

background 100By Pepper Parr

December 26th, 2017



Let us not rush back into the real world quite yet.

Christmas was festive, fun, and family – the day after has become a holiday with a quaint tradition that is celebrated in the Commonwealth countries that reflects the class tradition of the times.

The first mention of Boxing Day as a tradition is believed to be in 1830. It was the day that the Upper classes gave a “box” to people like post-men, errand-boys, and servants of various kinds.

It was a present, a gratuity given at Christmas to people who had provided a service. In Great Britain the custom for tradesmen to collect “Christmas boxes” of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year. The tradition goes back as far as December 1663.

Boxing day - regency

It was a different time, a different era when class differences defined everything. The Boxing Day tradition came out of that era.

The tradition was linked to an older British tradition – 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.

In South Africa as recently as the 1980s, milkmen and garbage collectors, who normally had little if any interaction with those they served, were accustomed to knock on their doors asking for a “Christmas box”, being a small cash donation, in the week or so before and after Christmas.

The European tradition, which has long included giving money and other gifts to those who were needy and in service positions, has been dated to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown. It is believed to be in reference to the Alms Box placed in areas of worship to collect donations to the poor.

Boxing Day became a secular holiday that is traditionally celebrated on 26 December, the day after Christmas Day. 26 December is also St. Stephen’s Day, a religious holiday.

In the UK, Boxing Day is a bank holiday

In Scotland, Boxing Day has been specified as an additional bank holiday since 1974In Ireland – when the island as a whole was part of the United Kingdom – the Bank Holidays Act 1871 established the feast day of St. Stephen as a non-movable public holiday on 26 December. Following partition in 1920, Northern Ireland reverted to the British name, Boxing Day.

In Australia, Boxing Day is a federal public holiday. The Australian state of South Australia instead observes a public holiday known as Proclamation Day on the first weekday after Christmas Day or the Christmas Day holiday.

In New Zealand, Boxing Day is a statutory holiday; penalty rates and lieu time are provided to employees who work on Boxing Day.

In Canada, Boxing Day is a federal statutory holiday. Government offices, banks and post offices/delivery are closed. In some Canadian provinces, Boxing Day is a statutory holiday that is always celebrated on 26 December. In Canadian provinces where Boxing Day was a statutory holiday, and it falls on a Saturday or Sunday, compensation days are given in the following week.

In the United States, 26 December is not observed as “Boxing Day”.

The tradition has become a massive sales push that has people lining up outside large chain store operations as early as 5 am waiting for huge discounts, usually on electronic items that are positioned as loss leaders to attract customers.

Boxing day at the Eaton Centre

Boxing day at the Eaton Centre – packed.

The CTV television network reports that in 2010 Boxing Day sales totaled $1.8 billion. The tradition has become a shopping holiday that has become Boxing Week

Many retailers open very early (typically 5 am or even earlier) and offer door buster deals and loss leaders to draw people to their stores. It is not uncommon for long queues to form early in the morning of 26 December, hours before the opening of shops holding the big sales, especially at big-box consumer electronics retailers.

In recent years, retailers have expanded deals to “Boxing Week”. While Boxing Day is 26 December, many retailers will run the sales for several days before or after 26 December, often up to New Year’s Eve. Notably, in the recession of late 2008, a record number of retailers were holding early promotions due to a weak economy. Canada’s Boxing Day has often been compared with the American Super Saturday (the Saturday before Christmas) and Black Friday.

From 2009 onward Black Friday deals become more prominent among Canadian retailers to discourage shoppers from crossing the border to the USA when the Canadian and USA dollars was close to parity, and this has lessened the appeal of Boxing Day in Canada somewhat as it was overtaken by Black Friday in terms of sales in 2013.

Boxing Day is not and has never been a shopping holiday in the USA.

In some parts of Canada, particularly in Atlantic Canada and parts of Northern Ontario, most retailers are prohibited from opening on Boxing Day, either by provincial law or by municipal bylaw, or instead by informal agreement among major retailers to provide a day of relaxation following Christmas Day.

A tradition that came out of a social class based society has evolved into a week-long shopping spree.

It isn’t just about shopping; sports events have become major Boxing Day events.

Boxing day - soccer

Major European leagues may enjoy a winter break when players can put their feet up over the festive period. But it’s all go in the Premier and Football Leagues. And that means plenty of action for armchair soccer fans.

In the United Kingdom, it is traditional for both top-tier football leagues in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the lower ones, as well as the rugby leagues, to hold a full programme of football and rugby union matches on Boxing Day.

Originally, matches on Boxing Day were played against local rivals to avoid teams and their fans having to travel a long distance to an away game on the day after Christmas Day.

This is probably much more than you wanted to know about the holiday we celebrate today.

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