The day after Christmas is traditionally known as Boxing Day and observed in the UK, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, and some other Commonwealth countries. The tradition dates to the Middle Ages and is when servants and tradesmen would receive gifts, known as a “Christmas box,” from their bosses or employers. The holiday may be in reference to the Alms Box housed in places of worship in order to collect donations for the poor. It may also come from an early Christian tradition of metal boxes placed outside churches to collect special offerings tied to Saint Stephen, whose feast day falls on the same day as Boxing Day in the Western Church.
In the UK, Canada and parts of Australia, Boxing Day is mostly a shopping holiday, and similar to our Black Friday. For many merchants, it is the day of the year with the most returns, and there are dramatic sales. Many retailers open early (5am or earlier) and long lines will form well beforehand.
Boxing Day is also an important day for sports. In the UK, many soccer and rugby leagues will hold matches against local rivals, a practice originally instituted to avoid fans and teams having to travel far for an away game the day after Christmas. There are also the King George VI Chase, a major horse race and some of the only mounted hunts of the year.
So there you have it. Unlike the misconceptions, Boxing Day gets its name neither from picking up all the boxes in a messed up living room the day after Christmas nor a proliferation of boxing matches on television!