Boxing Day: How Sharing Food Shaped The Day After Christmas

You may think all the typical Christmas traditions are done and dusted by the end of the 25th, but there is one more classic Christmas season tradition to take into account. The 26th of December is usually marked as ‘Boxing Day’ in the UK and the practice dates back many years to the Victorian era (as so many classic Christmas traditions do) and has a fascinating story to go with it. 

In the Victorian era, affluent individuals would pack up surplus belongings to donate to the less fortunate. This occasion allowed domestic staff a respite from duties, acknowledging their efforts with a 'special box' of treats. The staff would then return home, dedicating the 26th to familial companionship and sharing the gifts they had recently received. It was also customary for the more wealthy families in the neighbourhood to share food among those who may not have had access to such a resplendent Christmas feast.

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This national holiday also alludes to a maritime custom. Departing ships would carry a sealed box with money on board as a gesture of good fortune. Should their journey prove prosperous, the box would be handed to a priest, opened on Christmas, and subsequently distributed to those in need.

An alternative explanation suggests that the term originated from alms boxes placed in churches to collect donations for the less fortunate. On December 26, clergy members would distribute these funds to the needy in recognition of the feast of St. Stephen, a Christian martyr renowned for his charitable deeds. St. Stephen holds such significance that in Ireland, Boxing Day is colloquially known as St. Stephen’s Day.

Another clue to the holiday's name can be found in the carol "Good King Wenceslas." As per the song, the story of the Duke of Bohemia in the 10th century encountered a destitute man on his property, struggling to gather wood during a snowstorm on St. Stephen’s Day - historically the 26th of December. Touched by this scene, he gathered food and wine and delivered it to the man's doorstep, sparking a tradition of generosity and goodwill

Today, Boxing Day is less centred around acts of charity and is treated as a day to relax with family and friends, catch up with people you didn’t get to see on Christmas and indulge in some creative cooking by rustling up some Christmas leftovers whether that’s turkey sandwiches, a cold ham brunch or just picking at the leftover bits and bobs from the day before. Though the traditions have evolved over time, Boxing Day still carries its own unique air of celebration.