December 26 is the day everyone goes back to work after the Christmas holiday, right? Well, in the United States it is, but not everywhere. In places like England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other British commonwealths, the citizens have another day off! The reason? It’s Boxing Day, which has been officially recognized as a holiday since 1871.

You may think Boxing Day has to do with putting unwanted Christmas gifts back in their boxes in order to return them at the store. Or you may think it’s about cleaning up your family’s mess after opening gifts on Christmas Day. Or is it about the sport of boxing itself?

Sorry, friends. Those theories are all wrong.

There’s a history to Boxing Day that goes back CENTURIES. While its history doesn’t necessarily apply to how Boxing Day is celebrated now, it’s still good to know the roots of what our neighbors to the north and their related countries are acknowledging.

Thank You for Your Service?

There really isn’t a specific date on when Boxing Day first began, but it started centuries ago when English aristocrats had servants and/or “household employees.” On Christmas Day, the servants would work all day for the aristocrats so they could enjoy the holiday.

The day after Christmas, December 26, was a day of rest for the servants, where they could visit other family members or just enjoy the time to themselves. On this day, they were given “Christmas boxes” filled with small gifts, money, leftovers and more as a thank you from their employer(s). It was also a thank you for their hard work throughout the rest of the year.

This “tradition” is one of Boxing Day’s roots.

Time to Give Out Charity Boxes

What if some people weren’t “employed” as servants and/or “household employees?” Leading up to Christmas, churches would put out collection boxes for churchgoers to donate money, food or various other things to the poor. On December 26, the leaders of the church would divvy up the donations into smaller boxes and give them to the poor or those in-need.

There you have it! That is how the day after Christmas came to be known as Boxing Day.

How Is Boxing Day Celebrated Today?

While boxes of goodies may still be distributed to those in-need on December 26, that’s not how people typically celebrate the holiday anymore. Much like the United States, most of those charitable boxes and goodies are distributed in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Now, Boxing Day is essentially Black Friday 2.0. Many retailers, both in-store and online, have doorbuster sales that draw in crowds of consumers willing to cash in on all types of deals.

Boxing Day is also a big sports day across the world, whether it’s soccer, cricket or hockey. In fact, one of the biggest tournaments in hockey, the IIHF World Junior Championship, begins on Boxing Day every year. This is a tournament like the Olympics, but it’s for the best under-20-year-old players.

Now, whenever you look at a calendar and it tells you it’s Boxing Day, you’ll know exactly what the holiday’s title means!