The Origins of Boxing Day

Some suggest that the origins of Boxing Day can be found during the Victorian Era, but it appears to have begun much earlier..

“Good King Wenceslas Looked Out On The Feast Of Stephen”

The traditional Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas” points us to a 10th century start to the Boxing Day tradition. Wenceslas, a 10th century Bohemian Duke, surveyed his land on St. Stephen’s Day (Dec. 26)  and saw a peasant gathering wood in the middle of a snowstorm. Moved with compassion, Wenceslas collected food and wine from his own stores and took them through the storm to the peasant’s home. His charitable deed became associated with St. Stephan’s day, making it a day for acts of charity toward the needy.

Medieval Connections to Boxing Day

During the Middle Ages, churches maintained collection boxes for the poor. By tradition, these boxes were opened and the contents distributed to the poor on the feast of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. The association with the alms boxes may have led to the appellation, Boxing Day.

Boxing Day in the Georgian Era

Giving ‘Christmas Boxes’ to charity and servants was the custom on St Stephen’s Day, now called Boxing Day. The well-off were expected to be particularly generous. Old clothing and extra items were boxed up and handed out to servants and tradesmen who visited that day.

Servants were often given the day off to celebrate Christmas with their families since their well-off employers required their service on Christmas Day.

A second St. Stephen, a 9th century martyr and patron saint of horses gave rise to another Boxing Day tradition, horse racing and fox hunting.  

Boxing Day also saw the start of Christmastide pantos. Rather than marking the end of the holiday season as we might consider it, Boxing Day started the festivities that would culminate on Twelfth Night.

Read a scene of Boxing Day Charity here.

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    • Glynis on December 26, 2017 at 6:54 am
    • Reply

    I certainly think the custom of giving boxes of goodies to the staff and tenants is a better meaning of BOXing day than the current tradition of queuing outside stores to get the best sale deals!
    Thank you Maria 💐😘

    1. I totally agree!

    • J. W. Garrett on December 26, 2017 at 8:06 am
    • Reply

    Thank you for sharing this with us. Happy Boxing Day to those who celebrate and a Happy New Year to all.

    1. Happy New Year, JW!

    • Teresa Broderick on December 26, 2017 at 12:40 pm
    • Reply

    Here in Ireland it’s just called St Stephens Day. The old tradition here was that groups of people traveled around to houses playing musical instruments, singing and dancing. You would be given a few coppers or food and drink, depending on the house. My brothers did it every year when we were kids. I couldn’t play anything so wouldn’t go 🙂

    1. I had read a little about that, but I had a hard time finding when that tradition had been practiced. Thanks, Teresa!

  1. Our family has long celebrated Boxing Day. My husband makes amazing almond toffee, and we take bags to friends and neighbors on Boxing Day as well as to our local library and post office. Living in a small town of 1500 souls with no residential mail delivery means that we know our postal workers by name, and since the library is the social hub of the town, the same goes with our librarians. They know to expect us after 16 Boxing Days! 😉

    Also, we often select a “birthday present for Jesus” through Samaritan’s Purse or other charity.

    Happy Second Day of Christmas, Saint Stephen’s Day, and Boxing Day!!

    Susanne 🙂

    1. Thanks for sharing your traditions! Love it!

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