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What Is Boxing Day?

To people in the United States, Boxing Day is just a Canadian holiday that shows up on the calendar every year. But really, Boxing Day is an important holiday originating in Britain and celebrated by most former and current British colonies. It’s celebrated on the day after Christmas, December 26, and is a national holiday in many countries, which means that most people get the day off from work. So, what is Boxing Day, and does it have anything to do with boxing?

Historical significance

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Boxing Day originates from Great Britain. Historically, when Christmas came around, the servants and working-class people had to work in the homes of the wealthy, preparing their holiday celebrations. Since they had to work, it didn’t leave much time for them to celebrate. On the day after Christmas, the wealthy homeowners would provide their employees with holiday bonuses, which usually came in small boxes, and give them the day off of work. This became known as Boxing Day.

Another theory for how Boxing Day came to be is that throughout the holiday season, people would contribute donations to local charity drives. The donation boxes would be opened on the day after Christmas — hence, Boxing Day. The exact origins are a bit hazy, but nonetheless, it has to do with the opening of Christmas boxes and not boxing as a sport, which is a common misconception.

Boxing Day celebrations

Shopping mall decorated for the holidays
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Boxing Day is celebrated in Great Britain and many current and former British colonies, including Australia, New Zealand and, of course, Canada. Since not many households have servants in the same way that they used to, the celebrations related to Boxing Day have changed in the modern era. Today, people celebrate Boxing Day mainly with shopping and sports.

In countries that celebrate Boxing Day, it has become a holiday similar to Black Friday in the United States. Many stores will run deep discounts and offer doorbuster deals to get people into the stores. The day after Christmas has always been a heavy shopping day because of gift returns, so Boxing Day just takes it to the next level. Some people even wait to do their Christmas shopping on Boxing Day solely for the discounts!

Sporting events

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What do Boxing Day and Thanksgiving have in common? They’re both celebrated with football! Well, different kinds of football. Football in Europe, aka soccer, is not played on Christmas. It’s considered a football-free day. So, to get their sports fix, watching soccer on Boxing Day has become a tradition akin to watching American football on Thanksgiving.

December 26 is also St. Stephen’s Day. St. Stephen is the patron saint of horses, and historically, the holiday is celebrated with horse-related sports like racing and fox hunting. The two holidays have become linked because of their shared date. In more rural areas of Great Britain, people still enjoy a traditional fox hunt to celebrate Boxing Day.

The other kind of boxing

Pair of red boxing gloves with a reusable water bottle
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Although the name “Boxing Day” originally had no relation to the sport, some African countries have since taken the name more literally. Boxing has always been popular in Africa. With the misconceptions about the name of the holiday, they simply decided to make them legitimate. Every year, professional and amateur boxing matches are held in countries like Ghana, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania specifically to celebrate Boxing Day. So, for those of you wondering if Boxing Day has anything to do with the sport of fist fighting, it does in Africa!

One of the most famous boxing matches that took place on Boxing Day was between Tommy Burns and Jack Johnson in 1908. Johnson went on to defeat Burns and became the first Black man to win Heavyweight Champion of the World.

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