Holiday Presents :: What is Boxing Day?

Boxing Day is a bank and public holiday commonly occurring on December 26th. It is observed in Australia, Austria, Canada, Germany, Ghana, Greenland, Guyana, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Kenya, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Finland, Norway, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad & Tobago, the United Kingdom, and other countries in Europe and the Commonwealth of Nations with a mainly Christian population. In South Africa this public holiday is now known as the Day of Goodwill while in Ireland it is known as St Stephen's Day or Lá an Dreoilín. In continental European countries, the day is often known as "Christmas II" or "Second Christmas Day."

Though it is not an official holiday in the United States, the term "Boxing Day" is used by some Americans, particularly those who live near the Canada – United States border. In Canada, Boxing Day is listed in the Canada Labour Code as an optional holiday. Only in the province of Ontario has it been made a statutory holiday where all workers receive the time off with pay.

The exact etymology of the term "boxing" is unclear and there are several competing theories, none of which is definitive. The tradition has long included giving money and other gifts to those who were needy and in service positions. The European tradition has been dated to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown and there are some claims that it goes back to the late Roman/early Christian era; metal boxes placed outside churches were used to collect special offerings tied to the Feast of Saint Stephen.

In the United Kingdom, it certainly became a custom of the nineteenth-century Victorians for tradesmen to collect their "Christmas boxes" or gifts on the day after Christmas in return for good and reliable service throughout the year. Another possibility is that the name derives from an old English tradition: in exchange for ensuring that wealthy landowners' Christmases ran smoothly, their servants were allowed to take the 26th off to visit their families. The employers gave each servant a box containing gifts and bonuses (and sometimes leftover food). In addition, around the 1800s, churches opened their alms boxes (boxes where people place monetary donations) and distributed the contents to the poor.