History of Boxing Day
The origins of Boxing Day are somewhat debated. The most likely story dates back hundreds of years to Britain. One version says that on December 26 wealthy families would give their servants and tradespeople a gratuity of either money or a “Christmas box” full of food and gifts to thank them for their service and for working all day Christmas Day. According to another tradition, churches would set up boxes to be filled with gifts on Christmas Day, which would then be distributed to the poor the following day. Regardless of which tradition is correct, each of these stories shows that Boxing Day had its origin in gift-giving to others.
Another name for Boxing Day is St. Stephen’s Day to commemorate the death of the first Christian martyr, Stephen (Acts 7:54–60). This is the day mentioned in the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas”:
In this carol, when King Wenceslas sees a poor man struggling to collect fuel, he and his page bring gifts of food, drink, and fuel to his home. This carol highlights the giving theme of St. Stephen’s Day, or Boxing Day.
Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen . . .
When a poor man came in sight
Gath'ring winter fuel . . .
“Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither.”
Boxing Day Today
Boxing Day is still celebrated, often as a statutory public holiday, today in many countries including the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and other British Commonwealth countries. Although there is still some gratuity-giving on Boxing Day to those who work in service occupations, the day is largely not about giving anymore. Just like there is American football on Thanksgiving Day in America, there are many sports that have Boxing Day games such as football (soccer), horse races, rugby, and traditionally fox hunting in the United Kingdom, and cricket, basketball, and yacht racing in Australia. International ice hockey championships are also often played on Boxing Day.
In Canada, the UK, and some Australian states, Boxing Day is a shopping extravaganza with deals similar to American Black Friday. In some places lines begin forming hours before the stores open. Boxing Week sales have even replaced Boxing Day sales in some areas to make a whole week of sales.
We are commanded to put others above ourselves by looking out for their interests, rather than our own.
The historical Boxing Day ties in easily with a biblical worldview. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Paul wrote in Philippians, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3–4). We are commanded to put others above ourselves by looking out for their interests, rather than our own. What better time to practice this than Christmastime? Christmas is the time when we consciously focus on Christ’s birth, the greatest gift to mankind. In Philippians 2:5–11 we see the perfect example of humility and attention to the interests of others in the Lord Jesus Christ. He, the one to whom we will all someday bow, was willing to come and be born as a servant, humbling Himself to the point of dying on a cross. What an incredible expression of love and humility!
As you celebrate Christmas this year, take time on Boxing Day, or any other day, to actively model Philippians 2:3–4 for others. Perhaps you can give an extra tip to those who work in gas stations or restaurants on Christmas Day to thank them for their service, or give a gratuity of money, a small gift or even some baked goods to the kid who shovels your snow or the person who delivers your mail or collects your garbage. Through your small act of kindness you will actively show people the love and service of Christ just as He has showed that to us through His death.
Recognizing Those Who Serve
Historically, Boxing Day was likely about recognizing those who serve and thanking them for their service. Again, this is biblical. First Timothy 5:18 says, “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.’” This Scripture teaches that appropriate pay and recognition of those who work and serve is important. Boxing Day is a great day to do what we should be doing all year long, expressing our appreciation for those who serve. This would be a great time to honor your pastor or a missionary or military family and thank them for the hard work they do every single day.
Holidays for God’s Glory
Holidays, such as Boxing Day, can be used for the glory of God. Instead of merely celebrating with the traditions that you and your family have done every year, consider introducing some new traditions that reach out to others with encouragement and with the gospel. Even if Boxing Day isn’t a traditional holiday where you come from, perhaps consider incorporating the idea of giving to those in need and thanking those who serve into your Christmastime celebrations. In doing so you will show others the love of Christ and open up doors to share with them the real meaning of the season—Jesus Christ, the greatest gift ever given to this world.