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. But the day after Christmas brings up a new version of the word: Boxing Day
The holiday is less familiar in the States, but it’s observed in the UK and Commonwealth nations on the first weekday after Christmas. It traditionally involves giving Christmas gifts, or boxes, to employees, letter carriers, and others—and doesn’t involve a boxing ring.
How did Boxing Day get its name?
First, let’s spend a moment on the origin of the word box in the pugilistic sense of boxing. The sport gets its name from the noun box, “a blow, as with the hand or hist,” and verb box, “to strike with the hand or fist.” Box is recorded as early as the 1300s, and its ultimate obscure is origin.
Rest assured that the day after Christmas has nothing to do with bopping friends and family in the head. Rooted in European traditions reaching back to the Middle Ages, Boxing Day has historically involved giving gifts to employees or those in need.
There are different theories regarding how Boxing Day got its name. (The term itself is first recorded in the 1800s.) A common version centers on the Christmas box, a clay box (in the word’s sense of “container, case”) 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, especially soccer (football). For example, in some of the African Commonwealth nations, prize-fighting contests are held on Boxing Day. The day has also gained commercial associations, similar to Black Friday.