Though historians disagree on the exact origin of Boxing Day, it is thought to have grown out of longstanding British traditions of charitable giving and goodwill. There are several theories as to how that charitable tradition became known as “boxing.”
Some historians tie the use of the term to boxes of donations that were installed in churches during the pre-Christmas season of Advent in the early days of Christianity during the second and third centuries A.D. The day after Christmas, the boxes were opened and the money distributed to the poor.
Another theory is tied to a practice that arose around the 16th century. Working-class people would spend December 26 seeking out Christmas “boxes,” or tips, from the people they had served throughout the year.
Another possible origin story for Boxing Day has to do with a tradition that evolved in socially stratified 19th century Victorian England, where servants sacrificed time with their own families to cater to their aristocratic employers on Christmas. On the day after Christmas, employers would give the servants a rare day off and send them home with leftovers from the family’s Christmas feast, plus gifts and tips.