Blogs > Cliopatria > What are the origins of Boxing Day?

Dec 26, 2005 6:14 pm

What are the origins of Boxing Day?

Boxing Day is here.

But don't put up your dukes.

Today has nothing to do with pugilism -- although people have fought for years about its origin.

The holiday emerged in England during the Middle Ages, many argue, from the tradition of gift boxes for the poor.

"It's just a way to relax after Christmas," said Peter Cutts, a British citizen who will celebrate Boxing Day in London with his wife and two children.

Cutts visited Columbus from mid-September to early December to teach theater at Ohio State University and play the Narrator in the OSU production of The Rocky Horror Show .

"You spend the day mopping up after Christmas, seeing relatives you haven't seen in a while and eating cold turkey and maybe some ham," he said. "People used to bring boxes around. I think that's where the name came from. It was a day to show one's benevolence to the poor."

Others trace it more directly to the practice of priests opening collection boxes on the day after Christmas to distribute money to the needy.

Some historians think the holiday was begun to give servants who had to work on Christmas the next day off.

Whatever the history, "It's a Victorian tradition that's carried over," said Joy Reilly, an OSU professor who grew up in England.

Celebrated on Dec. 26 (or, when Boxing Day falls on a weekend, the next Monday), the holiday isn't well-known in the United States.

Yet it is observed in many Commonwealth countries -- including Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

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