What Is Boxing Day?

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Relax, Hallmark conspiracy theorists. Boxing Day isn’t some prank to confuse America—it’s a real holiday! Here’s how the world celebrates.

Boxing Day is observed every year on December 26. Before it took on its feistier name, the holiday was known as St. Stephen's Day.
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Many historians think the holiday’s name is derived from the church practice of opening alms boxes the day after Christmas and distributing money to the poor.
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Historically, British employers followed the church’s lead by sliding workers and servants gifts or cash on December 26. Merchants tossed servants a few coins, too, for bringing in a household's business.
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Why give Christmas gifts the day after Christmas? Because the servants spent Christmas and Christmas Eve scrambling to pull off big holiday dinners for their masters.
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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.
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Despite the name, British observances of Boxing Day involve no fisticuffs. For patricians, however, another sport rules the day: fox hunting.
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In other countries, Boxing Day celebrations are more literal. Many former British colonies in Africa and the Caribbean celebrate the holiday with prizefighting events.
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Like most Western holidays, Boxing Day has become pretty commercialized. With big sales and bigger crowds, Boxing Day is the British answer to Black Friday.

This article originally appeared in mental_floss magazine.

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December 26, 2013 - 12:00am
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