The day after Christmas, December 26th, is an annual holiday known as “Boxing Day” celebrated in several countries in the British Commonwealth. The holiday has its roots in Catholicism, which encourages donations to the poor, or “almsgiving” around Christmas time. In Canada, December 26th is a secular federal holiday whose traditions have evolved since its national recognition in 1871.
Time Magazine describes Boxing Day celebrations as, “a what-were-we-doing-again? bout of amnesia.” The history and rituals of Boxing Day are diverse and convoluted, but it’s a cherished holiday nonetheless. Read on for answers to all your questions about Canadian Boxing Day.
Why is it called “Boxing Day?”
The origin of the holiday’s name isn’t clear. Many theories exist--none of which involve a pair of gloves and Mohammed Ali’s sport.
- Theory #1: Anglican churches collected donations for charity in boxes throughout December. On December 26th, the “poor boxes” were opened and their contents were distributed.
- Theory #2: Traditionally, aristocrats gave gift boxes to their servants on December 26th to thank them for helping with Christmas festivities.
- Theory #3: In feudal times, lords “paid” people who worked on their land over the past year with boxes filled with practical gifts, such as farming tools or cloth.
What do Canadians do on Boxing Day?
Though no consensus exists on which particular tradition inspired Boxing Day, each theory involves charity. Boxing Day in Canada was originally all about collecting and distributing donations to the poor. Today, however, different families celebrate in different ways. Some hit the malls for holiday markdowns, and others spend the day lounging with family, eating Christmas leftovers, and watching hockey. Family activities are common on December 26th, such as an annual Boxing Day skating or curling day.
How is Canadian Boxing Day different from Boxing Day in other countries?
In the UK and Ireland, Boxing Day is more closely tied to St. Stephens, the patron saint of horses. In Ireland, the holiday is called “St. Stephen’s Day.” Wren hunting in Ireland and fox hunting in England were popular Boxing Day activities that didn’t transfer to Canada. Today, wren hunting is less popular in Ireland, but the “Wren Boys” parade on the streets in traditional garb occurs on the 26th. Boxing Day fox hunting is still popular in the U.K., with hundreds of thousands of people gathering with hounds and horses for the annual hunt. Like in Canada, most countries that celebrate Boxing Day do so in the style of modern consumerism--with shopping mall gatherings for the year’s biggest deals. Think a slightly less frantic Black Friday.
If you’re traveling to Canada around the 26th of December, watch out for closures. The official statutory holiday means that most offices remain closed the day after Christmas. If you’re hoping to snag some deals or watch a World Juniors hockey game, then Canada is the place to be on Boxing Day.
Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary seriesConfucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide (3rd printing), was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.
Photo credit: Boxing Day in Toronto by Dubes