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Boxing Day: Where it came from and how to celebrate it

creative calendar showing boxing day

Boxing Day is a much-loved holiday that’s synonymous with watching cricket, chilling at the beach, shopping for bargains and visiting friends, but its origins are actually quite intriguing.

Why is it called Boxing Day?

Despite its name, Boxing Day has no connections to fighting or the disposal of empty boxes following the gift-giving that occurs on Christmas Day. Celebrated in the UK and other members of the Commonwealth such as Australia, its earliest print attribution can be traced to 18331, four years before Charles Dickens referred to it in The Pickwick Papers.

One theory2 is that centuries ago, 26 December was the day when lords of the manor and aristocrats filled Christmas boxes with money, gifts and leftovers before presenting them to their household servants and employees. The gifts were in recognition of their hard work over the year. Another idea is that the charity boxes left in churches on Christmas Day to collect money for the poor were opened and distributed on the 26th.

Did you know? 26 December is also St Stephen’s Day3, which commemorates the life of Saint Stephen, a Christian deacon in Jerusalem who was known for his service to the poor and his status as the first Christian martyr.

What does Boxing Day mean today?

Over the centuries, we’ve evolved this public holiday into a special day where friends and families gather to celebrate the day after Christmas. Others like nothing more than watching the Boxing Day Test on the couch while they recover from a day of over-indulgence.

Regardless of how it’s recognised, one thing is certain: Boxing Day is one of the busiest days of the year for our roads and shopping centres. Let’s look at five classic ways to observe and celebrate this proud Commonwealth tradition.

1. A day at the beach

Good weather pending, a day at the beach on Boxing Day is something that’s engrained in many Australians. From playing beach cricket and throwing frisbees to enjoying some off-leash fun with your four-legged friends, lounging at the beach is a much-loved tradition for many.

2. Watching the Boxing Day Test

The highly anticipated Boxing Day Test match has been captivating cricket lovers in Melbourne since the 1980s, and just a few years ago it attracted more than 90,000 spectators.4 Millions more watch the action from the comfort of their armchairs. For some, it’s just not Boxing Day without cricket on in the background.

3. Relaxing at home with leftovers

For those who work in retail or who have been frantically cooking and entertaining over the busy Christmas period, Boxing Day is about doing nothing at home and feeling wonderful about it. From eating leftovers to watching kids and grandchildren play with their new toys, lounging at home on 26 December is almost a tradition in itself.

4. Hitting the shops to grab a bargain

Some shoppers are up at the crack of dawn to score a bargain during the Boxing Day sales, while others wait in line to return or exchange unwanted gifts. More still can’t wait to spend gift cards or money they received the day before. Billions of dollars5 are spent over the three weeks from Boxing Day, and for some it’s a great way to buy cheap presents for next Christmas.

5. A road trip to your favourite spot

Maybe it’s been a while since you walked your favourite track or splashed in a nearby lake – Boxing Day is the perfect time to get in your car and take a road trip. Whether it’s a short journey or a long drive, make sure you pack a picnic and a sense of adventure. And don’t forget a charger if you plan on using your phone as your map.

This Boxing Day, don’t forget:

  • Traffic will be heavy, so either leave early in the morning, take a more scenic route or be prepared for a slow journey. Public transport is also an option, but check the train and bus schedules to make sure there are no changes in operating times.
  • Many retail stores have limited trading hours, and some might not even open on Boxing Day. Check online or phone them before planning your shopping spree.
  • Your dentist or doctor might be on holiday for a few weeks, so have a back-up plan or book an appointment a few weeks ahead of time. Find a practice that works over the holiday period and keep their details handy in case you need to see them urgently.
  • If you’re planning on leaving for a holiday, make sure you’ve had the car serviced ahead of time to avoid untimely breakdowns.

Regardless of how you plan to spend Boxing Day, make sure you follow the golden rule: relax and enjoy it!

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