Holidays WTF Is Boxing Day? An Explainer  

Jacob Shelton
16 items

Most of the English-speaking world has their own version of Boxing Day; England, Canada, Ireland, you name it and they have a version of this mysterious holiday that takes place on December 26. But what is Boxing Day? Depending on which holiday scholar you ask, the roots of this mysterious and malleable post-Christmas holiday can go back as far as the 10th century or be as recent as the 18th. The Boxing Day facts suggest that people have been celebrating the big BD in myriad ways and it was only recently that someone thought to jam all of the holidays together in order to better promote the endless Boxing Day sales that are happening right now (!) at your local shop.

For a holiday that, at its heart, is about the spirit of charity, there are a lot of physical activities that take place on the day. There’s Boxing Day football, the Boxing Day chase, and the Boxing Day hunt; maybe each of these activities was instituted once the amount of calories consumed on Christmas was calculated by Jamie Oliver. That’s probably not accurate, but the following pieces of data that perfectly explain why everyone in England is out on a Boxing Day shopping spree are as true as you can get when it comes to a holiday where no one is actually sure how it came about. 

It's Kind of Like Black Friday

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Photo: m01229/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

While the world laughs at the American post-Thanksgiving shop-a-thon known as Black Friday, it turns out that Europe and Canada do the same thing, they just wait until the day after Christmas to be gluttonous little shopping piggies. The shopping tornado that is Boxing Day has become a hotly contested item amongst British MPs (members of Parliment) who believe that Boxing Day should be a "day of rest" and opening the doors of their shops (or shoppes as they're called in England) means lost family time and retail staff exploitation. An e-petition that called for Boxing Day to be given protected status similar to Christmas Day and Easter Day garnered 138,235 signatures and read, "Christmas is a family time. The one day is not enough time to see two sides of families. Retail workers work extremely hard during the Christmas run up and only get the one day."

Foxes Have It Rough on Boxing Day

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Photo:  HendrikMijnders/Pixabay/CC0 1.0

One of the most barbaric Boxing Day practices is the traditional English fox hunt where hundreds of thousands of people take to the countryside to wear tight red coats and little black hats while they chase down foxes of all varieties. Traditional fox hunts have been happening since at least 1682, and even though the boxing day hunts were initially for the bourgeois, people of all classes now take part in the traditional hunts. Could Boxing Day be a mispronunciation of "Foxing Day?" Probably not.

Get Thee to Thine Local Horse Racing Track

Get Thee to Thine Local Horse ... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list WTF Is Boxing Day? An Explainer
Photo: TaylorHerring/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

What's a post-Christmas celebration without betting all the money you got in your stocking on "The Master's Wit," "Chips Ahoy," or "Mr. Sassafras, the Horse?" In the UK, the one Boxing Day activity that the whole family can get behind is "The Chase," where you can watch horses run around a track while grown men weep. According to the Wincanton Jockey Club, "It’s a Somerset tradition to come racing after the great indulgence of Christmas Day." Buying your ticket to the races on the day only costs £12, and that's a value you can't beat. 

The Feast of Saint Stephen

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Photo: Lawrence OP/flickr/CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Leave it to Wales to switch things up with their Boxing Day celebration, which they refer to as the Feast of St. Stephen, or Gwyl San Steffan. One ancient Welsh custom, discontinued in the 19th century, included the bleeding of livestock and "holming," the act of beating late risers and female servants with holly branches. The ceremony supposedly brought good luck and convinced everyone to wake up early for at least two weeks following the assault.