• History

What to Know About Boxing Day

2 minute read

Friday is Boxing Day, and if you’re a Yankee or just a non-Brit, you might not know what that is. In fact, even if you celebrate it, you may not know exactly what it is.

Every year on the day after Christmas, the United Kingdom, Barbados, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Kenya, and other countries celebrate the holiday, which has loose traditions and vaguer origins. In many countries, Dec. 26 is a shopping holiday much like Black Friday in the U.S., when products are sold for much-reduced prices. Celebrants enjoy the holiday through food, soccer, pub visits, seeing friends, and even an annual fox hunt.

Its origins are shrouded in speculation, but here’s what TIME said about Boxing Day’s beginnings.

The best clue to Boxing Day’s origins can be found in the song “Good King Wenceslas.” According to the Christmas carol, Wenceslas, who was Duke of Bohemia in the early 10th century, was surveying his land on St. Stephen’s Day — Dec. 26 — when he saw a poor man gathering wood in the middle of a snowstorm. Moved, the King gathered up surplus food and wine and carried them through the blizzard to the peasant’s door. The alms-giving tradition has always been closely associated with the Christmas season — hence the canned-food drives and Salvation Army Santas that pepper our neighborhoods during the winter — but King Wenceslas’ good deed came the day after Christmas, when the English poor received most of their charity.

King Wenceslas didn’t start Boxing Day, but the Church of England might have. During Advent, Anglican parishes displayed a box into which churchgoers put their monetary donations. On the day after Christmas, the boxes were broken open and their contents distributed among the poor, thus giving rise to the term Boxing Day. Maybe.

So enjoy your soccer and your shopping!

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