(USA Today) - Back at work on the day after Christmas? Your Canadian neighbors likely won't be.
That's because, like many other former and current British colonies — and, of course, in the United Kingdom — December 26 is Boxing Day, an official holiday. Here are three things to know about the day, which has nothing to do with pugilism:
Why is it called Boxing Day?
The moniker comes from the tradition of "Christmas boxes," gifts of money or goods given to tradespeople and servants on the day after Christmas.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the custom arose because servants, who would have to wait on their masters on Christmas Day, were allowed to visit their families the next day and employers would give them boxes to take home containing gifts, bonuses and, sometimes, leftover food. The tradition is mentioned in an entry in Samuel Pepys' diaries from 1663.
What do people do on Boxing Day?
Much like the Friday after Thanksgiving in the U.S., Boxing Day has turned into a major shopping extravaganza in the countries where it is marked. In England, according to the BBC, the day attracts a record number of shoppers, some of them returning gifts but most attracted by "door-buster" post-holiday sales.
Some even hold off buying Christmas gifts until Boxing Day in order to get the reduced prices. Until recently, it was the biggest shopping day of the year for Britons, but has fallen into second place after Black Friday in November, a practice adopted from America. Another tradition: Many rural residents go fox-hunting on Boxing Day, followed and/or preceded by a drink at the pub.
When did Boxing Day become an official day off?
In the United Kingdom and many of its former colonies, Boxing Day is a government-mandated holiday. However, if it falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the following Monday becomes the statutory holiday.
In England and Wales, it has been a national holiday since 1871; however, in Scotland it was not until 1974 that those north of the border also were given the day off. And in Ireland, which was part of the United Kingdom until the early 1920s, December 26 also has been an official holiday since 1871, though it is known as St. Stephen's Day. In Northern Ireland, however, which remains part of the U.K., the name became Boxing Day upon the creation of the Republic of Ireland.