Why is 26th December called Boxing Day?

The day after Christmas is referred to as ‘Boxing Day’, and sees a variety of events – ranging from sports events to big shopping discounts – take place in many parts of the world. For instance, the South African men’s cricket team is currently playing Australia in the Boxing Day test match.

Countries such as the UK and Australia see public holidays on the day as well. Interestingly, there is no definitive reason behind why the day is marked as such, and different theories exist. We explain how ‘boxing day’ is believed to have come into being, and what its importance is.

Roots in the spirit of giving

The most popular theory is that ‘boxing’ refers to the cardboard boxes in which gifts and other items were packed for homeless people and any person in need of some extra clothing, food or other materials during this time. It was particularly important as many countries in the Global North see biting temperatures prevail.

Christmas is also strongly associated with the traditions of giving and sharing gifts, and that also extends to those who are needy. Working-class people would often be working on Christmas Day, so December 26 would become the day they could really celebrate.

Others believe it comes from the post-Christmas custom of churches placing boxes outside their doors to collect money for distribution to less-fortunate members of society in need of Christmas cheer. Some trace it to Britain’s proud naval tradition and the days when a sealed box of money was kept on board for lengthy voyages and then given to a priest for distribution to the poor if the voyage was successful.

Sporting events

Football and cricket matches are scheduled to take place, in hopes that this would improve the events’ viewership as it is a public holiday. After the recently concluded Fifa World Cup in Qatar, the English Premier League will return from Boxing Day through to the New Year.

In Cricket, Test matches are held in Commonwealth countries in the Southern Hemisphere on this day, where December, January, and February are summer months.

In Australia, the Boxing Day Test match is played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) every year from December 26 to 30 between the Australian side and an opposing national team that is on a tour of the country, this time that’s South Africa. According to Australia Broadcasting Corporation, the history can be traced back to how in 1892, the stadium hosted a Sheffield Shield match which started a tradition of Christmas period clashes between Victoria and New South Wales.

The first international Boxing Day Test at the MCG was only held in 1950, and that Test against England actually started on December 22. The match against Clive Lloyd’s West Indies in 1975 was the one that popularized the event. A crowd of around 85,000 people showed up on day one, and the Australian side surprised spectators by defeating the celebrated Indies – which included the legendary Viv Richards.

Five years later, the Boxing Day Test was held at the MCG. India has played Boxing Day Test matches in Australia in 1985, 1991, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2014, 2018 and 2020. Boxing Day Test matches are also organized by New Zealand and South Africa.

The rise in shopping events

In modern times, “Boxing Day Sales” have flourished, with many enjoying a post-Christmas shopping bonanza. In some countries, it is the biggest sales event of the year.

The Metro newspaper once summed it up as: “Boxing Day: a time for napping, playing with all the toys you got your hands on at Christmas, and stubbornly refusing to change out of your pajamas unless there’s a major sale involved.”

Saint Stephen’s Day

According to the BBC, the day also has religious connections for some and is celebrated as Saint Stephen’s Day in Ireland and the Catalonia region of Spain. In some European countries – such as Hungary, Germany, Poland, and the Netherlands – Boxing Day is celebrated as a second Christmas Day.

(With inputs from AP)

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