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Boxing Day's Roots: Why Some Celebrate The Day After Christmas


It's the day after Christmas which means for the British, Australians, Canadians and people in a handful of former British colonies, it's Boxing Day. Boxing Day is always celebrated on December 26th, the day after Christmas. So what is it exactly? Well, in Britain, it's a bit like Black Friday. Government offices are closed. Stores are wide open. We called up Selfridges' department store in London and reached manager Luke Bayliss. He had to duck into a store room to escape the noise and crowds.

LUKE BAYLISS: It's our first day of sales and mark downs. We had people queuing up - big groups of people have come in of up to 20, you know, (unintelligible).

SHAPIRO: We asked Bayliss if he knew where Boxing Day came from.

BAYLISS: I have no idea (laughter).

SHAPIRO: So we had to go to other sources. We looked into it, and it turns out there are a few competing theories. Some historians say the name originates in Victorian times when churches passed around a donation box and asked congregants to open up their pocketbooks. Others say it's much older than that. Back in the 1500s, servants had to work on Christmas. The next day was theirs. Their employers would send them home with boxes of leftovers, gifts and holiday bonuses.

And there's a third theory. Boxing Day is the day when blacksmiths and other tradespeople would receive boxes of money or gifts from their customers, a kind of end-of-the-year tip. Samuel Pepys, whose diary is considered an authoritative source on what life was like in England in the 17th century, he references the practice in a December 19, 1663 diary entry.

KEVIN: (Reading) And thence by coach to my shoemaker's and paid all there and gave something to the boys' box against Christmas.

SHAPIRO: Today, aside from shopping, Boxing Day is traditionally big for sports like soccer and fox hunting.

TOM HUNT: Boxing Day has been for centuries the highlight of the calendar year for hunting.

SHAPIRO: That's Tom Hunt of the Countryside Alliance, a group that supports fox hunting in the U.K. The practice is currently illegal if the fox is killed.

HUNT: I think, actually, a lot of it's just got to do with the fact that, you know, everyone's been with their families on Christmas Day. Often, there's been a bit of excess in terms of eating and everything else, and I think, you know, a bit of hunting on Boxing Day is a fantastic way to get some countryside air.

SHAPIRO: So whether you are shopping, fox hunting or just enjoying the day off, from all of us here at NPR, happy Boxing Day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.