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What’s the meaning of Boxing Day?

What’s the meaning of Boxing Day?

It’s Christmas Day that receives the glitz and attention but Boxing Day also has a noble past. It hasn’t always been hangovers and shopping. This year, we’re teaming up with The Children’s Society to recreate the British Boxing Day tradition of focusing on the more disadvantaged in our Christmas all boxed up campaign.

What does Boxing Day mean to you?

A mad scramble round the shops trying to pick up bargains; cheering on your local football team after a tipple down the pub; sitting on the sofa picking at cold turkey and watching reruns of Christmas specials. All of these are familiar and in many ways considered a tradition in themselves. But it wasn’t always like this.


The history of Boxing Day

Dating back to the Middle Ages, Boxing Day was a time when gifts, money and leftover food were boxed up and donated to the poor. Wealthy families would hand Christmas boxes to their servants for good service throughout the year, tradespeople would receive gifts from their employers, and boxes were put out in churches to provide for more needy members of society. Although the true etymology for the term Boxing Day is unknown, this is one rather credible theory to its origins.


Image: Solodov Alexey /

It is said that the tradition of giving to the less fortunate was started by the Duke of Bohemia in the 10th century. Seeing a poor man gathering wood in a snowstorm, the King gathered food and wine and took them through a blizzard to the poor man’s door. The impact of the Duke’s kindness was so great that we still sing a song about him to this day, he’s better known to us as ‘Good King Wenceslas’. 

It wasn’t until as (relatively) recently as 1871 that Boxing Day became a bank holiday in Great Britain. Imagine that: one day off for Christmas and straight back to work!

Not such a problem for the more privileged classes, of course. Come rain, shine, snow or sleet, for hundreds of years they could be found crisscrossing the English countryside on their horses chasing foxes in a sporting Boxing Day tradition. 


Boxing day is unique to us

It’s only in Commonwealth countries that we call the day after Christmas Day Boxing Day. In Catholic countries it’s known as St. Stephen’s Day. In many European countries including Germany, Poland, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries it is celebrated as Second Christmas Day.

The Republic of Ireland know it as Wren’s Day and rather than chase foxes, people attach a fake wren to a pole and parade it along their local streets. This is said to be in memory of the Battle of Kinsale in 1601 at which folklore has it that an Irish attack on the English was foiled due to the loud squawking of a wren. 


The true meaning of Boxing Day


This year, we're is bringing back the true meaning of Boxing Day. We’re asking readers to spare half an hour this Boxing Day to box up any unwanted Christmas gifts and other suitable donations to help The Children’s Society change the lives of the country’s most disadvantaged children. Boxes will be gratefully received by The Children’s Society charity shop volunteers up and down the country to raise vital funds to support children who have nowhere else to turn this Christmas.  

Here’s how to take part in our Christmas all boxed up campaign with The Children’s Society. 


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