History of Boxing Day For Kids

Bedtime History

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As you may know, Christmas is a very popular holiday across the world, but have you ever heard about the holiday celebrated by many people the day after Christmas? It’s called Boxing Day. When I first heard about Boxing Day I wondered where it came from. My family never celebrated it, so I didn’t know. I thought maybe it had to do with the sport of boxing… It turns out it doesn’t have anything to do with that, but after some reading and research I learned where it does come from — so I’m super excited to share it with you tonight!

Boxing Day is a holiday in many countries that falls on December 26th, the day after Christmas Day. There are many ideas about where the name “Boxing Day” comes from.  Many people think that Boxing Day has to do with the sport of boxing or others think that it has to do with getting rid of empty boxes after Christmas. 

But, actually, the name comes from the 1830s in England and has to do with charitable acts.  A charitable act means to help someone else in need. During the middle ages, people would donate money to the church they attended as a donation.  A donation is something that is given away as a gift for free.

During the middle ages, churches collected donations in wooden boxes.  These boxes are called Alms Boxes.  Throughout the year, the money that was donated was used to pay for the costs of running the church and helping the poor. 

In December, the church opened the Alms Boxes the day after Christmas.

The idea of celebrating a second day of Christmas sounds really fun!  But did you know that this is not just an old tradition of the past?  Some countries today have a practice of celebrating two days of Christmas! This is common in Hungary, Poland, Germany, and the Netherlands. 

Over time the practice of giving to the poor on Boxing Day became even more popular.  It was no longer just the churches that gave to the poor on Boxing Day, but also rich people. In the 1660s, there were some people throughout Europe and in England that were very rich.  They owned land and had many servants that worked for them.  There were also a lot of needy people who were very poor at the time.  And the winter was also a very hard time for these people, because the weather is very cold.

Christmas was celebrated by many people in England, rich and poor.  But Christmas was very different depending on a family’s wealth and status. Rich people during the 1600s would celebrate Christmas with a large feast and gifts. Poor people and servants often worked on Christmas Day to take care of their masters. So the next day, Boxing Day was traditionally a day off for the servants. On this day the servants often received a special Christmas box from their masters.  The servants would usually take their Christmas Boxes home on Boxing Day to their own families and give the Christmas boxes to them to share.  The boxes often contained gifts, extra money, and leftover food from their master’s Christmas dinner. 

The practice of donating money on December 26 changed over the years.  Now, many people give money to the poor and other charities in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  Today, there is less of a practice of handing out boxes of goodies and money on Boxing Day itself.  But the name Boxing Day carries on. 

Most people in America now treat Boxing Day as a chance to relax and finish eating Christmas leftovers, playing with Christmas gifts, and visiting friends and family.  In America, people often use Boxing Day as a chance to eat leftovers. Our family has a funny tradition where we order Chinese food on Christmas Eve, so we always enjoy eating our leftovers on Christmas and the day after Christmas. But for many families, leftovers often include turkey in various forms: turkey pot pie, turkey curry, and turkey sandwiches. 

There are some people who still see Boxing Day as an opportunity to give to those who have less.  Some people leave out extra money for the poor or make donations of extra gifts or money to the poor on December 26th.

In our day, there are now other common traditions celebrated as part of Boxing Day. 

In South Africa, merchants, or people who sell things, started a habit of knocking on the doors of people in the area they work on December 26, asking for a “Christmas Box”. The wealthy people in the country hand out small cash donations to those who come by and knock. 

In Bermuda, traditional Gombey dancers perform on Boxing Day.  The tradition goes back to the 1700s when slaves in the British overseas territory were allowed to gather at Christmas time and on Boxing Day. 

In the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, Boxing Day is a day that is mostly treated as a shopping holiday. Stores often have big sales with lower prices. These stores open very early on Boxing Day and sometimes long lines form early in the morning with people waiting to get inside to get great deals.  This is especially true at electronics stores, selling TVs, phones, and other common household electronics. 

In America, the day after Thanksgiving known as Black Friday has mostly taken the place of Boxing Day, but there are still many many people who go shopping the day after Christmas to return unwanted gifts, make exchanges, or use their gift cards.

In Britain and other European countries, Boxing Day is often a big sports day. Football leagues in England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland and rugby leagues hold a full day of soccer and rugby ball matches on Boxing Day. 

In Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, cricket matches are played on Boxing Day. 

Several ice hockey contests are associated with the day. The IIHF World U20 Championship typically begins on 26 December, while the Spengler Cup also begins on 23 December in Davos, Switzerland.

In some African countries, particularly Ghana, Uganda, Malawi, Zambia, and Tanzania, professional boxing contests are held on Boxing Day. So they actually do box on these days! 

A notable tradition in Sweden is Annandagsbandy, which formerly marked the start of the bandy season and always draws large crowds. Bandy is a traditional Swedish sport played on ice with sticks. 

As with many traditions, the traditions celebrated on Boxing Day have changed over the years.  It has gone from a day of giving to the poor and to servants, to a day of shopping, relaxing, and watching sports. Does your family celebrate Boxing Day? If so, what are some of your family’s traditions?  

It’s fun to learn how holidays start and to remember the spirit of why they originally started. Do you have things you can donate to the poor? Some ideas might be toys that you no longer play with or extra money that you received for Christmas and may not need. For those who cannot donate money or items, you can always find ways to give your time to others who are in need. 


About Bedtime History

Bedtime History is a series of educational, relaxing stories for kids and families. Learn about inspirational characters such as Jackie Robinson, Sacajawea, Neil Armstrong, and Maya Angelou. Other topics include space exploration, current events, and great feats of engineering such as The Transcontinental Railroad.