Why is the 26th December Boxing Day in the UK & Ireland?

There is no agreement about this. We can be pretty sure it is not because:
  • family members were ready to fight each other after spending Christmas Day together  
  • it was the day you boxed up and sent unwanted presents back to the shop.
What is known is that the holiday is the feast day of Saint Stephen - as described in the carol Good King Wenceslas. There has also been an association since the early Christian period with charity - metal boxes were left outside churches.

In Britain, Boxing Day has always been seen as the holiday of the working classes. Typically, there would be acts of charity, including gifts to servants. This is not something that involves many households today. 

In Ireland St Stephen's Day was a time for visiting neighbours with gifts of food and drink. This is described in the Irish American song Christmas in Killarney - though it misleadingly implies that these home visits would happen on the 25th. Visiting another family on Christmas Day was, in fact, seen as a transgression of social protocol. John McGahern alludes to this gloomily in Amongst Women his classic novel about rural Irish life in the mid 20th Century. 


One custom that has continued to thrive is the organisation of sporting events for the masses. Major football matches are scheduled for this day in the knowledge that (typically male) family members will jump at the chance to escape the house.

In 2020, alas, this traditional escape from domestic merrymaking has been closed off by you-know-what.

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