Relax, Hallmark conspiracy theorists: Boxing Day isn’t some prank to confuse America. It’s a real holiday in the United Kingdom and other countries that dates back to the days of Queen Victoria. Here are some facts to get you up to speed.
1. Boxing Day occurs on December 26.
Boxing Day is observed annually on December 26. If it falls on a weekend, the public holiday itself will be celebrated on Monday. It became an official holiday during the reign of Queen Victoria, though some historians trace its origins back much further—to medieval times. Today, it's largely an extension of the Christmas holiday and a big day for sporting events and shopping.
2. No one really knows where the name "Boxing Day" originated.
Many historians think Boxing Day’s name is derived from the church practice of opening alms boxes the day after Christmas and distributing money to the poor. Historically, British employers followed the church’s lead by sliding workers and servants gifts or cash on December 26.
Others believe the "box" refers to the boxes of gifts employers gave to their servants on the day after Christmas. (In wealthy households, servants were often required to work on Christmas Day but given December 26 off to celebrate the holiday on their own.)
3. Boxing Day is a big day for shopping.
Historically, Boxing Day's post-Christmas sales have long made it one of the UK's busiest shopping days of the year. And while it still falls within the top five biggest shopping days of the year, the popularity of online shopping has reduced the overall spending people do on December 26.
"Fifteen years ago it was pretty much guaranteed that you would only get big sales a few times a year—Boxing Day and the big summer clearance," Bryan Roberts, an analyst at Kantar Retail, told The Telegraph in 2015. "That is no longer the case."
"The Boxing Day sales are pretty much dead," Roberts added. "Black Friday and Cyber Monday illustrate Christmas sales are starting earlier and earlier. There is a possibility prices will just keep on dropping in the run-up to Christmas. This makes the Boxing Day sales incredibly diluted."
4. There is no boxing involved in Boxing day.
Despite the name, British observances of Boxing Day involve no fisticuffs. For patricians, however, another sport rules the day: fox hunting. Though it's a long-held tradition, many animal rights activists and groups would like to see the practice done away with altogether. Especially since, technically, it's illegal. In the days leading up to Boxing Day, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is often very vocal in reminding citizens that "The chasing or killing of foxes and other British mammals with a pack of dogs was banned because the overwhelming majority of the UK public rejected this so-called 'sport' as cruel and abhorrent."
5. Some other countries do take the name more literally.
In other countries, Boxing Day celebrations are more literal. Some former British colonies in Africa and the Caribbean celebrate the holiday with prizefighting events.
6. In Ireland, December 26 is sometimes known as Wren Day.
Ireland sometimes refers to December 26 as Wren Day, a nod to an old tradition in which poor children would kill a wren, then sell the feathers to neighbors for good luck. In today’s celebrations, the wren is fake.
A version of this story originally ran in 2018; it has been updated for 2021.