What’s the origin of the British holiday custom Boxing Day?

A STAFF REPORT FROM THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD

Dear Straight Dope:

What is the origin of the British custom of Boxing Day? There seem to be as many theories on this as there are subjects of the (former) British Empire.

SDDStaff Dex replies:

Both the Morris’ book, Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, and Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable are agreed: The Christmas box was a gift box given to a faithful employees (servants, mainly) on the day after Christmas. In earlier times, almsboxes were placed in churches for casual offerings. They were opened on Christmas Day and the contents, called the “dole of the Christmas box” or the “box money” were distributed the next day by the parish priest to the needy families. Hence, the day after Christmas became the day for the Christmas Box or Boxing Day, a gratuity for the servants.

The practice of boxes continued until after World War II, for postmen, dustmen, and errand-boys, for instance. We just hope Uncle Cecil remembers us poor shlubs on the SDSAB.

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.

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