Skip to main content

Introduction

Boxing Day, an internationally renowned holiday, comes packed with history, culture, and tradition. Despite its widely acknowledged place on the calendar, the origins of this celebrated day and its journey to becoming a public bank holiday in the UK remain shrouded in mystery for many. In this article, we delve deep into the annals of history to shed light on the fascinating origins and development of Boxing Day.

1. Initial Origins of Boxing Day

To truly understand Boxing Day’s inception, it’s essential to take a step back, returning to the nascent period of its existence.

The Name: ‘Boxing Day’

The origins of the term ‘Boxing Day’ are steeped in the pages of historical texts, with several plausible theories. The first, and perhaps most common, traces back to the Middle Ages, where it was traditional for churches to open their alms box (a receptacle for donations) the day after Christmas. This money would then be distributed to the needy. Thus, the name ‘Boxing Day’ could potentially derive from this charitable act of ‘boxing’ up these donations.

The second hypothesis takes us to the Victorian era. Employers would traditionally give their servants a Christmas box, which included gifts and bonuses, on the day after Christmas. It was also their sanctioned day off, as they would have been required to work on Christmas Day itself. The act of presenting this ‘box’ may also lend its name to Boxing Day.

The Early Traditions

The practice of giving Christmas boxes to tradespeople and servants also originated during the Victorian era, around the 1830s. This act served as a kind of year-end tip or bonus for their year-round services. Recipients would typically include postmen, errand boys, chimney sweeps, and domestic servants, to name a few.

2. The Journey to Being a Bank Holiday

The road leading to Boxing Day being officially recognised as a bank holiday in the UK was a long one.

The Bank Holidays Act of 1871

Introduced by Liberal politician and factory owner Sir John Lubbock, the Bank Holidays Act of 1871 aimed to ease the pressure on workers by granting them additional days off. This act established several bank holidays, which included Easter Monday, the first Monday in August, Whit Monday, and Boxing Day. Although Christmas Day was not included in this act, it was traditionally a day off due to its religious significance.

Despite this, many employers were not legally obliged to provide their employees with these days off, and many workers continued their duties even on bank holidays. This imbalance was addressed later in the 20th century.

The Banking and Financial Dealings Act of 1971

The journey of Boxing Day to becoming a recognized public holiday took a significant leap forward with the Banking and Financial Dealings Act of 1971. This act brought several changes, including a revision of the dates on which bank holidays fell. Importantly, it cemented Boxing Day as a recognized public holiday in the UK.

3. Boxing Day in Modern Times

In contemporary times, Boxing Day holds a different significance for different people, but it continues to be a day of relaxation, sports, and shopping.

The Boxing Day Sales

Over time, Boxing Day has evolved to become one of the busiest shopping days of the year in the UK. Many retailers launch their post-Christmas sales on Boxing Day, offering substantial discounts on a range of products. These sales often draw in large crowds, eager to take advantage of the deals on offer.

The Role of Sports

Boxing Day is also famous for sporting events, primarily football matches. A full fixture list of football games is traditionally played on Boxing Day in the UK. The British horse racing calendar also features the prestigious King George VI Chase, held annually on Boxing Day.

The ‘Other’ Boxing Day

It’s worth noting that if Boxing Day falls on a weekend, the following Monday is typically designated a bank holiday. This ensures workers do not miss out on their entitled day off.

In conclusion, the history of Boxing Day as a bank holiday in the UK is a rich and intricate tapestry woven through centuries of tradition and law. It serves as a testament to the nation’s evolving social practices and workers’ rights, and remains a beloved holiday for its unique blend of relaxation, shopping, and sport.

Index