In the US, the word boxing usually refers to two athletes stepping into a padded ring, each with the intention of knocking the other off their feet. The holiday known as Boxing Day is generally obscure in the States. But in Britain, the celebration is ubiquitous—and doesn’t usually involve a boxing ring.
Let’s spend a minute with the origin of the box in the pugilistic sense of boxing. The brutal sport most likely gets its name from the Germanic word boke, “a blow.” Rest assured that the day after Christmas has nothing to do with bopping friends and family in the head.
Dating back to the Middle Ages, Boxing Day has been associated with the tradition of giving gifts to employees or those in need.
There are different folk etymologies regarding how Boxing Day got its name. A common version centers on the Christmas box, a clay box that was once commonly found in artisan shops in England. Donations to workers would be placed inside. After Christmas, the box would be broken and the workers in the shop would divvy up the contents.
In a similar tradition, churches would collect donations in a designated box. The charity would then be distributed to the less fortunate.
In modern times, Boxing Day in some places has actually become associated with sporting events. For example, in some of the African Commonwealth nations, prize-fighting contests are held on Boxing Day. The day has gained commercial associations, similar to Black Friday.