The term “Christmas-box” dates back to the 17th century, and among other things meant:
A present or gratuity given at Christmas: in Great Britain, usually confined to gratuities given to those who are supposed to have a vague claim upon the donor for services rendered to him as one of the general public by whom they are employed and paid, or as a customer of their legal employer; the undefined theory being that as they have done offices for this person, for which he has not directly paid them, some direct acknowledgement is becoming at Christmas. Boxing Day is a holiday celebrated on the day after Christmas Day. It originated in the United Kingdom, and is celebrated in a number of countries that previously formed part of the British Empire. Boxing Day is on 26 December, although the attached bank holiday or public holiday may take place either on that day or two days later.
In the liturgical calendar of Western Christianity, Boxing Day is the second day of Christmastide, and also St. Stephen’s Day. It is also celebrated as Saint Stephen Day in the Catalonia region of Spain. In some European countries, such as Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia, 26 December is celebrated as a Second Christmas Day.
In Britain, it was a custom for tradespeople to collect “Christmas boxes” of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year. This is mentioned in Samuel Pepys’ diary entry for 19 December 1663. This custom is linked to an older British tradition: since they would have to wait on their masters on Christmas Day, the servants of the wealthy were allowed the next day to visit their families. The employers would give each servant a box to take home containing gifts, bonuses, and sometimes leftover food.
In South Africa (a former British colony) as recently as the 1980s, milkmen and garbage collectors, who normally had little if any interaction with those they served, were accustomed to knock on their doors asking for a “Christmas box”, being a small cash donation, in the week or so before and after Christmas.
The European tradition, which has long included giving money and other gifts to those who were needy and in service positions, has been dated to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown. It is believed to be in reference to the Alms Box placed in areas of worship to collect donations to the poor. Also, it may come from a custom in the late Roman/early Christian era, wherein metal boxes placed outside churches were used to collect special offerings tied to the Feast of Saint Stephen, which in the Western Church falls on the same day as Boxing Day.
In the UK, Boxing Day is a bank holiday (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland since 1871). When 26 December falls on a Saturday, the Boxing Day public holiday is moved to the substitute day, which is the following Monday. If 26 December falls on a Sunday, the substitute public holiday is the following Tuesday. As Boxing Day was traditionally the first week day (historically Monday–Saturday) after Christmas, it cannot technically be on a Sunday as that is considered to be the day of worship. However, 26 December is nowadays generally referred to as Boxing Day, even when it falls on the Sunday.
In Scotland, Boxing Day has been specified as an additional bank holiday since 1974,by Royal Proclamation under the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971.
In Ireland – when the island as a whole was part of the United Kingdom – the Bank Holidays Act 1871 established the feast day of St. Stephen as a non-movable public holiday on 26 December. Following partition in 1920, Northern Ireland reverted to the British name, Boxing Day.
In Australia, Boxing Day is a federal public holiday. The Australian state of South Australia instead observes a public holiday known as Proclamation Day on the first weekday after Christmas Day or the Christmas Day holiday.
In New Zealand, Boxing Day is a statutory holiday; penalty rates and lieu time are provided to employees who work on Boxing Day.
In Canada, Boxing Day is a federal statutory holiday. Government offices, banks and post offices/delivery are closed. In some Canadian provinces, Boxing Day is a statutory holiday that is always celebrated on 26 December. In Canadian provinces where Boxing Day was a statutory holiday, and it falls on a Saturday or Sunday, compensation days are given in the following week.
In the United States, 26 December is not observed as “Boxing Day”, per se, by the Federal Government; however, it may be converted to an extension of “Christmas Day Observed” when Christmas falls on a Sunday, thus affecting Federal offices and services, as well as banking, regular postal delivery and trading markets. The 26th is given as a holiday to some state employees, mainly in southern states: Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas, but it is not known as Boxing Day.
In Nigeria, 26 December is a public holiday for working people or students. When it falls on Saturday or Sunday, there is always a holiday on Monday