The History of Boxing Day is varied and interesting, and depends somewhat on where you research the information available.
The tradition has long included giving money and other gifts to those who were needy and in service positions.
While the European tradition dates back to the Middle Ages, the exact origin is unknown and there are some claims that it goes back to the late Roman/early Christian era. Boxes were placed in churches where parishioners deposited coins for the poor, and these boxes were opened and the contents distributed on December 26, which is also the Feast of Saint Stephen.
Saint Stephen was one of the seven original deacons of the Christian Church who were ordained by the Apostles to care for widows and the poor. For the success of his preaching and his devotion to Christ, Saint Stephen was stoned to death by a mob. As he died, he begged God not to punish his killers.
In the United Kingdom, it was a custom for tradesmen 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 the 19th of December 1663. In feudal times in the United Kingdom, the lord of the manor would ‘pay’ people who worked on his land in the past year with boxes practical goods, such as agricultural tools, food and cloth. These were often distributed on the day after Christmas Day. The servants were also allowed to take the 26th off to visit their families.
More recently, employers traditionally gave their servants a gift of money or food in a small box on the day after Christmas Day. Some people in Canada still give gifts to people who provide them with services.
Here in Canada, Boxing Day is primarily known as a shopping holiday. It is a time where shops have sales, often with dramatic price reductions. For many merchants, Boxing Day has become the one day of the year they look forward to the most as it has the greatest revenue.