LivingTravelBoxing Day adds a little more to Christmas, but...

Boxing Day adds a little more to Christmas, but what is it about?

Boxing Day turns Christmas into an extra long vacation. But what is this? What are its special traditions and how did it get its name?

One of the best Christmas customs in the UK is that little extra celebration called Boxing Day. It is the day after Christmas, but it is also a UK national holiday. So if December 26 falls on a weekend, the following Monday becomes a holiday.

During particularly fortunate years (such as 2016), when Christmas Day is Sunday, the following Monday is the legal Christmas holiday and Tuesday is Boxing Day. Voilà, an instant four-day weekend is created.

What does boxing day celebrate?

Good question. Too bad no one really knows the answer. Of course, there are many theories. These are just some of the suggested origins of Boxing Day:

  • A day for the servants : It may have been a day when the home gave a Christmas box to the people who had worked for them during the year. Or, it may have been the day that the servants, who had to work on Christmas Day, visited their families, carrying boxes of gifts and scraps of Christmas food, leaving the family without servants to eat lunches.
  • A day for charity : Some say that traditionally churches opened their alms boxes the day after Christmas and distributed money to the poor on boxing day. There is probably a lot of truth to this theory, as December 26 is Saint Stephen’s Day (or the Feast of Stephen mentioned in the song Good King Wenceslas) and the saint is habitually associated with charity and giving alms.
  • A day to reward good service – Traditionally, merchants – the greengrocer, the tailor, the milkman – would receive a box of gifts and money to reward good service on the first day of the week after Christmas.
  • A Feudal Obligation Some suggest that in the Middle Ages, the lord of the mansion distributed boxes of household goods and tools to his servants, as was his obligation, on Boxing Day.

The tradition of boxing day dates back at least hundreds of years. Samuel Pepys, in his diary, mentions it in the middle of the seventeenth century. However, in the past, Queen Victoria only made boxing day a legal holiday in England and Wales in the mid-19th century. In Scotland, Boxing Day was not a national holiday until the late 20th century.

How do people celebrate?

Unlike other UK Christmas festivities, Boxing Day is completely secular. People spend the day visiting friends and family, going to concerts or the panto, participating in outdoor activities and shopping; offices may be closed, but stores and malls are busy. In fact, Boxing Day is one of the busiest shopping days on the British retail calendar.

Traditionally, people visit more distant friends and relatives to exchange small gifts, sample a slice of traditional Christmas cake, or enjoy a light meal of Christmas leftovers.

The day is also dedicated to spectators and sports participation. Contrary to what some people say, Boxing Day is not named after boxing matches. But there are plenty of soccer games, racing matches, and all kinds of major public and private sporting events on the day.

Racing Meets y Fox Hunts

It may be just a coincidence (although some would say there is no coincidence), but Saint Stephen (whose feast is celebrated on the same day as Boxing Day, remember) is the patron saint of horses. Horse racing and peer-to-peer events are traditional Boxing Day activities.

Until very recently, so was fox hunting. And although fox hunting with dogs was banned in Scotland in 2002 and the rest of the UK in 2004, a species of fox hunting on horseback is still allowed under the law. The group of hounds can throw the fox into the open field where it can be shot. In another replacement for fox hunting, a scent is trailed for dogs to chase over the course. Boxing day is a traditional time for these events and you can still see the spectacle of hunters in their red hunting jackets, called ‘roses’, riding towards the dogs.

Most of the time these days they will probably be followed by a group of animal rights protesters.

A day for eccentricities

Boxing day also seems to be an occasion for nonsense. You there are plenty of swims and swims in the icy waters around Britain, often with costumes (Costume British) racing rubber duckies and beagling, a simulated fox hunting on foot. A typical series of Boxing Day events always includes a chance for eccentric Britons to relax.

Moving around on boxing day

If you don’t have a car or bike and plan to venture beyond what you can walk on on Boxing Day, it’s a good idea to plan your trip in advance. Public transportation (trains, buses, subway and metro services across the country) operates on limited hours and on holidays. Taxis, if you can find them, are usually more expensive. These information resources can help you get around Boxing Day and other UK holidays:

  • National rail inquiries: timetables, stations, service status and fare information for almost all major UK rail services.
  • Transport for London – Trip planner, route maps, timetables and service status announcements for London Underground, Tube, Tram, buses and major services to London stations.
  • UK Buses – An enthusiast website with links to most local bus companies and bus services across the UK.
  • Traveline – An association of transport companies, local authorities and passenger groups trying to provide routes and timetables for all public transport options in Great Britain, including buses, trains, coaches and ferries.

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