Boxing Day – All You Need to Know

Dec 26, 2011


“Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,

When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;

Brightly shone the moon that night, tho’ the frost was cruel,

When a poor man came in sight, gath’ring winter fuel.”

John Mason Neale, 1853

Why is Boxing Day called Boxing Day?

Good question.

Although the day after Christmas has been as an official holiday in the United Kingdom (and most of Australia) since 1871, no one seems  to be sure why it is called Boxing Day.

What I thought I knew about this turned out to be a myth. It is not because it is the day when brothers test out their new boxing gloves on each other, nor because it is the day when we box up our decorations and presents.

Dccember 26th is St Stephen’s Day – St Stephen was one of the first century martyrs. It has been a tradition since medieval times to give to the the poor on the feast day of St Stephen. (Good King Wenceslas helped the poor man gathering winter fuel about the year 1000).

There are two major theories about the use of the term Boxing Day for December 26th

The ‘Poor Box’ Theory

“King Wenceslas didn’t start Boxing Day, but the Church of England might have. During Advent, Anglican parishes displayed a box into which churchgoers put their monetary donations. On the day after Christmas, the boxes were broken open and their contents distributed among the poor, thus giving rise to the term Boxing Day. Maybe.” Time Magazine


The ‘Gift Box’ Theory

Did you give your servants the day off yesterday. Of course not. However, to encourage them to work hard on Christmas Day, it is traditional to give them one day leave for Boxing Day. To show your generosity, it is traditional give them a box of goodies to take home to their familites.Hence, Boxing Day.


Which theory do of believe is correct? Or do you have another explanation?

Whatever the origin, Boxing Day is a traditional day of rest.

In more recent days, it is also the first day of the post-Christmas sales. Boxing Day is not celebrated in the USA – the day after Thansksgiving fills this role.

Sport and Boxing Day

In Australia, the major activity on Boxing Day is watching sport. 

The Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race has started at 1pm on December 26th since the first race in 1945. This year wil be therefore be the 66th race.

The ‘traditional’ Boxing Day Test has been a fixture at the MCG only since 1980. It is in fact more traditional for  the NSW vs Victoria Sheffiled Shield Match to be held over Christmas, much to the annoyance of the players from NSW who had to miss the festivities at home every year.

But undoubtably the major sporting event that takes place in Australia is the annual race meeting at Tangmalangaloo. This event is immortalized in this poem by Narrandera’s favourite parish priest, Fr Patrick Joseph Hartigan (John O’Brien)


The bishop sat in lordly state and purple cap sublime,

And galvanized the old bush church at Confirmation time.

And all the kids were mustered up from fifty miles around,

With Sunday clothes, and staring eyes, and ignorance profound.

Now was it fate, or was it grace, whereby they yarded too

An overgrown two-storey lad from Tangmalangaloo?



A hefty son of virgin soil, where nature has her fling,

And grows the trefoil three feet high and mats it in the spring;

Where mighty hills uplift their heads to pierce the welkin’s rim,

And trees sprout up a hundred feet before they shoot a limb;

There everything is big and grand, and men are giants too –

But Christian Knowledge wilts, alas, at Tangmalangaloo.



The bishop summed the youngsters up, as bishops only can;

He cast a searching glance around, then fixed upon his man.

But glum and dumb and undismayed through every bout he sat;

He seemed to think that he was there, but wasn’t sure of that.

The bishop gave a scornful look, as bishops sometimes do,

And glared right through the pagan in from Tangmalangaloo.



“Come, tell me, boy,” his lordship said in crushing tones severe,

“Come, tell me why is Christmas Day the greatest of the year?

“How is it that around the world we celebrate that day

“And send a name upon a card to those who’re far away?

“Why is it wandering ones return with smiles and greetings, too?”

A squall of knowledge hit the lad from Tangmalangaloo.



He gave a lurch which set a-shake the vases on the shelf,

He knocked the benches all askew, up-ending of himself.

And so, how pleased his lordship was, and how he smiled to say,


good, my boy.  Come, tell me now; and what is Christmas Day?”

The ready answer bared a fact no bishop ever knew –

“It’s the day before the races out at Tangmalangaloo.

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