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Blog / Boxing Day

The History of Boxing Day: South African Day of Goodwill

Similar to Black Friday in the United States, Boxing Day, which is held on the day after Christmas, is one of the most popular shopping days in Canada and in other parts of the world.

It’s a day where deal seekers are out en masse, looking to take advantage of huge sales. It’s a day where millions of Canadians get up early, it’s almost impossible to get a parking spot at your local mall, and there are line ups to get into stores – all in hopes of getting a smoking deal on a TV, buy that gift they didn’t get for Christmas, or to cash in their gift cards. Similar to Black Friday, online sales are increasingly becoming a popular way to shop on Boxing Day. In fact, some retailers are starting Boxing Day sales the week before Christmas! However, the Boxing Day we have come to know today is very different from its origins. The following takes a look at the history of Boxing Day.

Why "Boxing Day"?

While the exact origin of the name is not entirely clear, it’s believed to refer to the Christmas Boxes that were given to servants, tradesmen, and the poor by employers and the wealthy on the day after Christmas. Other interpretations of the name date back the Middle Ages and late Roman/early Christian era, where boxes were placed in areas of worship to collect donations for the poor and to collect special offers for the Feast of Saint Stephen. 

“The best clue to Boxing Day's origins can be found in the song ‘Good King Wenceslas.’ According to the Christmas carol, Wenceslas, who was Duke of Bohemia in the early 10th century, was surveying his land on St. Stephen's Day — Dec. 26 — when he saw a poor man gathering wood in the middle of a snowstorm. Moved, the king gathered up surplus food and wine and carried them through the blizzard to the peasant's door.”

Modern Boxing Day

Boxing Day has been a national holiday in England, Canada, Ireland and Wales since 1871. While it used to be a day of charity, it is far from it today. In addition to it being a popular shopping day, today it has also become known as a day of sport. In England, it’s known for annual fox hunts and football, while in Canada it is known for the World Junior Hockey Tournament.

Is Boxing Day celebrated in other countries?

Outside of Canada and the UK, Boxing Day is commonly celebrated in many other commonwealth countries, each with a unique spin on how they celebrate the day:
  • Australia: The day is a federal holiday. However, in South Australia, the day is referred to as Procrastination Day.
  • Bahamas: The day is celebrated with a street parade and festival called Junkanoo.
  • New Zealand: The day is celebrated the same as in Canada.
  • South Africa: Known as the Day of Goodwill, it is a public holiday that most people spend at the beach.

Boxing Day is not formally celebrated in the United States. It is a public holiday in a number of southern states, but it’s widely referred to as Day after Christmas Day.

Watch for our Boxing Day Specials - up to 70% off selected items!

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