Unwind, Hallmark trick scholars: Boxing Day isn’t some trick to confound America. It’s a genuine occasion in the United Kingdom and other European nations that goes back to the times of Queen Victoria. Here are a few realities to get you up to speed.
1. It occurs on December 26th.
Boxing Day is observed annually on December 26. If it falls on a weekend, the public holiday itself will be celebrated on Monday. It became an official holiday during the reign of Queen Victoria, though some historians trace its origins back much further—to medieval times. Today, it’s largely an extension of the Christmas holiday and a big day for sporting events and shopping.
2. Nobody truly knows where the name began.
Numerous historians think the holiday’s name is derived from the church practice of opening alms boxes the day after Christmas and distributing money to the poor. Historically, British employers followed the church’s lead by sliding workers and servants gifts or cash on December 26.
Others believe the “box” refers to the boxes of gifts employers gave to their servants on the day after Christmas. (In wealthy households, servants were often required to work on Christmas Day but given December 26th off in order to celebrate the holiday on their own.)
3. It’s a big day for shopping.
Historically, Boxing Day’s post-Christmas sales have long made it one of the U.K.’s busiest shopping days of the year. And while it still falls within the top five biggest shopping days of the year, the popularity of online shopping has reduced the overall spending people do on December 26.
Fifteen years ago it was pretty much guaranteed that you would only get big sales a few times a year—Boxing Day and the big summer clearance, Bryan Roberts, an analyst at Kantar Retail, told The Telegraph in 2015. That is no longer the case.
The Boxing Day sales are pretty much dead,” Roberts added.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday illustrate Christmas sales are starting earlier and earlier. There is a possibility prices will just keep on dropping in the run-up to Christmas. This makes the Boxing Day sales incredibly diluted.
4. There is no boxing involved.
Despite the name, British observances of Boxing Day involve no fisticuffs. For patricians, however, another sport rules the day: fox hunting. Though it’s a long-held tradition, many animal rights activists and groups would like to see the practice done away with altogether. Especially since, technically, it’s illegal. In the days leading up to Boxing Day, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is often very vocal in reminding citizens that “The chasing or killing of foxes and other British mammals with a pack of dogs was banned because the overwhelming majority of the UK public rejected this so-called ‘sport’ as cruel and abhorrent.”
5. Some other countries do take the name more literally.
In other countries, Boxing Day celebrations are more literal. Some former British colonies in Africa and the Caribbean celebrate the holiday with prizefighting events.
6. In Ireland, December 26th is sometimes known as Wren Day.
Ireland sometimes refers to December 26 as Wren Day, a nod to an old tradition in which poor children would kill a wren, then sell the feathers to neighbors for good luck. In today’s celebrations, the wren is fake.