I remember being Canadian once trying to explain Boxing Day to an American friend.
“A day off on the 26th?” she asked confused. “Why do you need a vacation when you’ve just had one?”
In this case, the answer lay firmly in the question. The genius thing about Boxing Day is that it’s a holiday within a holiday – which means it’s the holiday we all need right now.
Commemorated in Britain, Canada and several Commonwealth countries, Boxing Day’s origins are English, rooted in a tradition of giving a trifle to the poor and servants in December. 26. The wealthy employers gave the Aid a box of goods to take with them when they visited their families the day after Christmas – since they had worked on Christmas Day itself.
Hence Boxing Day.
In the 19th century, the tradition turned into a public holiday and then spread throughout the empire. Our rebellious American cousins had already split by this point, which might explain why Canada has Boxing Day and the United States doesn’t.
Any traditional role the holiday may have once played gave way quickly over the course of the 20th century to its current function, at least in Canada: indulgence. Christmas belongs to the family. On Boxing Day you make yourself.
You can have a blast watching the World Junior Hockey Championships with your buddies – a popular choice. You can show your friends your toys instead of listening to your grandparents rant about past Christmases. Most importantly, you can shop: Boxing Day, or rather Boxing Week, has become Canada’s biggest shopping season of the year, even surpassing Black Friday in November – a tradition Canada inherited from the US, even though it’s Thanksgiving celebrates a Monday in October.
But the real appeal of Boxing Day isn’t the sales, it’s the pressure dropping from December. 25. Christmas is a joy, but also a lot of work. The promise of Boxing Day – a day just for you – makes everything so much more bearable. When your family drives you crazy at Christmas, when the food is too heavy, when you didn’t get what you wanted, there’s always tomorrow. Boxing Day recognizes that sometimes holiday love isn’t enough. You need holiday fun too.
Not to offend anyone, but I was always amazed that Americans missed the opportunity to add another holiday to the calendar, especially one dedicated to excess. Maybe Boxing Day is one of those Canadian things, like Coffee Crisp and the Tragically Hip, that look like they’d work perfectly in the US but just don’t translate.
Traditions evolve, however, and Boxing Day is worth making your own. Celebrate your own private Boxing Day today and do whatever you want. Tell anyone who objects that you’re secretly Canadian, if only for 24 hours.