What is Boxing Day and the fuss around it all about?
There's a Boxing Week, too? Source: Shutterstock

As an international student, you may have heard the phrase “Boxing Day” used quite about lately to describe the day after Christmas. Are they referring to the sport, or actual boxes, the kind used to transport things about?

Turns out it’s none of the above. Boxing Day refers to Dec 26, an official holiday (yes, even for universities!) celebrated in the United Kingdom and a couple of other countries that previously formed part of the British Empire. For the locals, it’s a time of turkey sandwiches, Christmas TV and where shops rack in their biggest sales for the entire year. It’s also St Stephen’s Day, a religious holiday to commemorate Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr.

As servants had to serve their masters on Christmas Day back then, they were only able to visit their families the next day. Their employers then gave them boxes – containing gifts, bonuses and even leftover food – to take home, hence the term “Christmas boxes”, according to USA Today.

It’s been an official holiday ever since 1871 in England and Wales – Scotland only started giving the day off on 1974. If it falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the public holiday is then substituted on the following Monday.

Today, Boxing Day is defined by the shopping extravaganza it brings as shops hold sales with prices dramatically reduced, to the point that some even put off buying Christmas gifts until Boxing Day to cash in on the discounts. The high street used to be where all the action was, but retailers have made their massive sales online as well (check out this list of the best tech deals to look out for on Boxing Day by The Independent).

Shopping-aside, there are other traditions associated with Boxing Day, such as the glorious barrel rolling race in Grantchester, Cambridgeshire, where men’s, women’s and mixed teams roll large wooden barrels in a relay race up and down the Coton Road before lunch on Boxing Day.

People protested after Prime Minister Theresa May proposed reintroducing fox hunting earlier this year. Source: Shutterstock

Foxes get hunted too, despite the Hunting Act and groups against animal cruelty going up in arms against the sport. The Guardian notes that Boxing Day hunts have pulled crowds of hundreds of thousands, with its supporters claiming they are just as popular than ever before. And while Britain’s hunts use Boxing Day as an event to convince the media that all is nice and friendly in the world of hunting, this is reportedly not the case and traditional hunting – where foxes are chased and killed with packs of dogs – still happens.

Less popular but still quintessentially British Boxing Day traditions also include swimming in ice-cold waters in fancy dress (the aptly named “Nippy Dipper Boxing Day Dip” in Aberdeen), a fun three-and-a-half-mile with a pint of winter ale served at the two-mile mark (“Thirsty Run”) and playing football in fancy dress (“Comedy Football Match” on Scarborough Beach).

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