boxing day uk traditions

Boxing Day: Where Did It Get Its Name From and the Traditions Associated With it

Boxing Day, that peculiarly British institution and by extension, commonwealth tradition (Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa celebrate it), is as much a part of the Christmas season as the Kings speech, brussels sprouts, and the inevitable mountain of leftover turkey, roast potatoes and yuletide log.

It’s a day that has carved out its own special place in the festive calendar, one that is observed on the 26th of December, a day when the Christmas cheer lingers and the thought of returning to work is for many a distant week away at least and one where you see friends and extended family or just nurse the christmas day hangover on the sofa with a few good Christmas films.

Where did Boxing Day Originate from?

But how did Boxing Day come to be? To unravel this, we must delve deep into the annals of history, back to a time when the world was lit by candlelight, and the term ‘leftover turkey’ was more likely to refer to an underperforming member of the aristocracy than a post-Christmas dinner dilemma.

The origins of Boxing Day can be traced back to medieval times. It was the day when the alms boxes, collections for the poor, were traditionally opened and the contents distributed, a sort of Middle Ages GoFundMe. It was the original day of charity, long before charity became an option on the self-checkout screen.

The Lords of the Manor Give Back

In the grand stately homes of olde England, Boxing Day was the day when servants, laden with boxes of leftovers, could finally put their feet up, if only to compare blisters from running after their employers. These boxes often contained a bonus, gifts, and yes, enough leftover turkey to feed an army—or at least a small battalion. It was the Downton Abbey of public holidays, a below-stairs celebration that eventually spread upstairs and out into the wider community.

The name ‘Boxing Day’ might conjure up images of a post-Christmas fist fight, an opportunity for families to work off the frustrations of a day cooped up with relatives. Yet, while Uncle Pete and Auntie Margie trade alcohol infused verbal jabs over the Monopoly board is a common sight up and down the land, the ‘boxing’ actually refers to those gift boxes.

Fast forward to the Victorian era, and Boxing Day had cemented its place in the Christmas holiday season. It was a day off for the hardworking folks who made the Christmas magic happen. Tradespeople would collect their ‘Christmas boxes’, a thank you for their year-round service, possibly with the hope that the contents might be more exciting than a cold slice of leftover turkey.

Boxing Day is Sports Day

It’s also a day steeped in sport. From fox hunts to football matches, Boxing Day has it all. The traditional Boxing Day hunt, with red-coated riders and a parade of hounds, was as much a part of the holiday as Auntie Marge’s annual sherry-fuelled rendition of ‘Jingle Bells’.

Thankfully, foxes can breathe a sigh of relief, as the hunt is now more for show, and the footballers have taken over as the day’s prime entertainment, chasing a ball rather than a tail is much less brutal and enjoyed by everyone.

Bag a Bargain

In the recent past until present, Boxing Day has taken on a new life as the great day for shopping with the inevitable news report of a throng of eager shoppers beating down the doors of Harrods being the light hearted news report of the day.

What can be witnessed though as the sales begin, is the fight for end of line bargains which is arguably fiercer than any historical boxing match although not as bad as Black Friday is now.

Shoppers queue from the early hours, braving the winter chill for a deal on an LED TV or a half-price sofa, proving that the only thing more robust than British resolve is British desire for a bargain. While some people couldn’t think of anything worse than this, especially with a hangover for many its a tradition all in itself.

Getting Creative with leftovers

But let’s not forget the food. Oh, the food! If there’s one thing more abundant than goodwill at Christmas, it’s turkey. Boxing Day could be rechristened ‘Leftover Day’, as fridges across the nation groan under the weight of half-eaten birds. Creative turkey-based meals become the order of the day: turkey curry, turkey sandwiches, turkey soup, turkey pie… By the time New Year’s Eve rolls around, the very sight of turkey is enough to make one consider vegetarianism and many do now with the trending Vegenary no meat January becoming more prevalent.

So, as you sit back on Boxing Day, savouring the last of the Christmas pudding and navigating a sea of wrapping paper, spare a thought for the rich history behind this much loved holiday.

Whether you’re braving the sales, indulging in sport, or creating the world’s most creative turkey-based sandwich or entertaining guests, Boxing Day is a uniquely British blend of history and post-Christmas hangovers. And who knows, maybe one day, we’ll finally answer the age-old question: Is there really such a thing as too much turkey?

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