Also referred to as St. Stephen’s Day, Boxing Day is a holiday that began in England but is also celebrated in other Commonwealths. It was generally celebrated the day after Christmas or the next weekday after the holiday. Some claim that the event was intended as a way of getting rid of gift boxes and other holiday trappings that cluttered the home following Christmas. While most of the history of Boxing Day hinges on speculation, this claim does not appear to be supported. A popular urban legends website states that it is actually false.
The general consensus is that Boxing Day was a day to show appreciation for those who provided services to wealthier individuals as well as a time to provide for the less fortunate. While those who shared similar class status exchanged gifts on Christmas Day, the underclass received gifts on Boxing Day. These gifts were often packed up in boxes, perhaps Christmas gift boxes, so they could be carried easily. This may be where the name Boxing Day originated.
However, there are other explanations, including the possible use of “banks” or boxes made of clay that were broken open on Boxing Day to reveal a holiday bonus of sorts, from an employer to employee or master to servant. Another possibility is that collection boxes, where donations were made for the poor, were opened on Boxing Day and the donations handed out to the needy. This may be where modern day drop boxes to collect donations for charity got their start.
The types of gifts given to service personnel frequently included clothing, food, or other staples. Could it be that the wealthier classes waited until the day after Christmas in order to engage in an early form of what is known today as “regifting”? It is possible that people of upper classes may have sorted through their Christmas gifts and given the items they didn’t want or need to service personnel. Perhaps they gave away items that were replaced by new Christmas gifts.
Money was also given as a gift on Boxing Day in some cases, especially to those who had families of their own to care for. This may have helped create the tradition of tipping service personnel in modern times. Many people give tips during the holiday season to hair stylists, mail carriers, house cleaners, and others who provide a service, even in countries where Boxing Day is not celebrated.