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This Day in History - 12.26.2011

Boxing Up Gifts, or Boxing the Crowds?

By Sarah Hultgren

Boxing Day, or to American’s simply “the day after Christmas,” is a bank holiday celebrated by most Commonwealth countries such as Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In its history it has been a day dedicated to charitable giving, although now it’s more like an extra day off work to soak in the Christmas celebrations and shop the sales. Some joke that the term “Boxing Day” came from all the Christmas wrappings and boxes being thrown out the day after, or that it’s due to families fighting after so much time together, but the holiday goes back much further than that. It has officially been a government holiday since 1871, and is believed to have begun sometime around the reign of King Wenceslas in the 900s.

Traditionally, Boxing Day was when lords would provide new yearly rations to their serfs and allow servants to have the day off after working their employer’s Christmas parties—where the “boxing” comes in still holds some mystery. It has been suggested that homeless, or lower class citizens, would use boxes to collect charity and donations from those with means, or that the church would distribute the contents of their Christmas offerings in boxes given to the poor.  Either way, the holiday’s purpose was to focus on giving to those less fortunate.

Throughout the years, however, the consumer-driven outlook we have today has replaced the original message. Instead of working in the homeless shelters, giving a glimpse of hope to those who have none, people now line up to get 50% off of things that they don’t actually need.