Recognised as an official *day off* since 1871, Boxing Day is an institution in the British calendar but from my investigation there is no common consensus as to how it got its name.
While the exact origins of the holiday are obscure, it is likely that Boxing Day began in England during the Middle Ages, but even that isn't certain. I wish I could tell you it was called Boxing Day because we all undertake great boxing matches within our families. Whilst some of you may like to beat on various family members I quite like mine...
It used to be THE DAY for the Sales... People would queue for hours to get bargains, I remember seeing scenes on the TV that looked like how I imagine the US's Black Friday. These days Boxing day is less about sales and more about catching up on Christmas Day telly!
Traditionally in Britain we have Christmas Day and then the day after, Boxing Day. My Boxing Days recently have been spent with close friends during which much wine is consumed. My memories of Boxing Day are of eating cold turkey and gammon, with pickles and bread... one of my favourite foods!
So anyway, here are the top most popular reasons why people think we call it Boxing Day...
All pilfered from Wikipedia and other totally reliable sources on the T'interwebs...
Boxing Day was a day off for servants and when they received a ‘Christmas Box’ from the master. The servants would also go home to give ‘Christmas Boxes’ to their families.
Servants and tradesmen would receive gifts, known as a "Christmas box", from their bosses or employers. In Britain, 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 19 December 1663. This custom is linked to an older English tradition: since they would have to wait on their masters on Christmas Day, the servants of the wealthy were allowed the next day to visit their families. The employers would give each servant a box to take home containing gifts and bonuses, and sometimes leftover food.
In feudal times, the lord of the manor would gather all those who worked on his land together on this day and distribute boxes of practical goods, such as agricultural tools, food and cloth. This was payment for the work that they had done throughout the passed year
A box to collect money for the poor was placed in Churches on Christmas day then opened the next day.
In ancient, pre-Christian Rome, Saturnalia was a Roman celebration during which slave owners would switch roles with their slaves. Gift giving was a part of Saturnalia and benevolence to slaves was a practice which may have influenced the later December tradition of boxing and presenting of gifts to people of lesser status. The European tradition, which has long included giving money and other gifts to those who were needy and in service positions, has been dated to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown. It may come from a custom in the late Roman/early Christian era, wherein metal boxes placed outside churches were used to collect special offerings tied to the Feast of Saint Stephen, which in the Western Church falls on the same day as Boxing Day.
Great sailing ships when setting sail would have a sealed box containing money on board for good luck.
If the voyage were a success the box was given to a priest, opened at Christmas and the contents given to the poor. (My personal favourite!)