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26th December - What exactly is Boxing Day in the UK?

Friday, 15 December 2017
What exactly is Boxing Day in the UK? What exactly is Boxing Day in the UK? Background image created by V.ivash - Freepik.com

Boxing Day - what do the British do on this public holiday?  Find out the UK traditions for 26th December with our intermediate reading comprehension exercise with questions and answers.

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Reading comprehension - Intermediate level

When do we celebrate Boxing Day?

In the UK we call 26th December Boxing Day. It is also the name given to this day in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and other Commonwealth Countries. However, the origins of this public holiday date from England in the mid nineteenth century in the time of Queen Victoria. If the holiday is on a weekend, then most workers have an extra day's holiday on the Monday as compensation. (Although this is not the case in Canada.) Together with Christmas Day, Boxing Day is officially classified as a Bank Holiday in the United Kingdom and therefore the banks, government offices and many companies are closed. Boxing Day can also be known as St. Stephen's Day and this is mentioned in the Christmas Carol (traditional Christmas song) called 'Good King Wenceslas'. St. Stephen was a saint who was killed because of his beliefs just after the Crucifixion of Christ and in Ireland and some other European countries call 26th December the feast of St. Stephen.

How did Boxing Day get its name?

There are several theories! Some say Boxing Day was originally called this because it was the custom on that day for working people (for example the butcher, the baker or the milkman) to collect their 'Christmas boxes' or gifts from their employers or customers in return for good service during the year. Others say that Lords and Ladies used to present Christmas gifts in boxes to their servants on 26th December. However,  some people think that the tradition dates back to Roman times when boxes were used to collect money for athletic games. Later the Romans brought this idea to Britain and priests began to use collecting boxes to gather money for the poor at Christmas. On 26th December the boxes were opened and the money given to people in need.

Boxing Day is usually spent relaxing with family and friends at informal get-togethers. Many also enjoy the special Christmas selection of television programmes and films which are offered. Very often there is a lot of 'leftover' turkey from the day before so this can be eaten cold as turkey sandwiches with other party food. In this way the cook can have a rest! On the other hand, some families may choose to have another hot meal perhaps with gammon or beef.

Many people also choose to get some fresh air on a Boxing Day walk or by attending sporting events such as horse racing or football matches (even Premier League matches are played on Boxing Day). Shopping in the sales is also becoming very popular. In the past, the sales did not begin until the New Year but nowadays most big stores open very early on Boxing Day and many people queue to buy items at greatly reduced prices. Internet shopping is also a favourite activity. Altogether, shoppers spent £3.84 billion in the shops and online during the Boxing Day sales. However, there is also a campaign to keep the shops closed on Boxing day so that shop workers have a chance to rest and spend time with their families.

Public Transport and Boxing Day Travel

There will only be a limited service on public transport on Boxing Day even in London, as this is a holiday for many people. There are no mainline trains on Boxing Day and buses, trams and tube trains will usually operate a Sunday service. Taxis will be available but will usually charge more per journey. Most airports are open but passengers need to plan their journey carefully if they are using public transport. On the roads, the motorway services may only offer quite limited facilities.

Other fun activities

Another Boxing Day tradition is the start of the 'Pantomime'. This is a children's show typically based on well-known stories such as Aladdin, Sleeping Beauty, Jack and the Beanstalk, Peter Pan and Cinderella. Although aimed at children, many adults enjoy the colourful and noisy performances which encourage the audience to participate by singing, clapping, shouting etc. For many children this is their first experience of live theatre.

However, perhaps our craziest Boxing Day tradition is swimming in the sea! This is called the Boxing Day Dip and takes place at several seaside towns around Britain. (A 'dip' means a quick plunge into water.) The largest event is on Seaburn Beach in Sunderland in the North of England. Here, even though the temperature in the North Sea is only around 9.5 C at this time of year, about 1000 courageous swimmers will enter the icy water dressed in fancy dress (comical costumes) watched by about 5000 spectators. At most locations swimmers can earn a medal and help to collect money for charities.

Sources

Electronic

Paul Denton: History of Boxing Day. Available from http:pauldenton.co.uk/Boxingday.htm {7/11/2017}

Wikipedia: St. Stephen's Day. Available from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Stephen%27s_Day {7/11/2017}

Wikipedia: Boxing Day. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boxing_Day{7/11/2017}

The Guardian: Why is it Called Boxing Day? You asked Google - here's the Answer. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/26/why-is-it-called-boxing-day {7/11/2017}

Transport for London: Boxing Day. Available from https://tfl.gov.uk/status-updates/major-works-and-events/boxing-day-2017 {7/11/2017}

Book

Marriott, E 2015, I should Know That: Great Britain.  Michael O'Mara Books Limited, Great Britain

Boxing Day in the UK: Comprehension Questions

1.  Are the banks in Britain closed on both 25th and 26th December?

2.  Who originally brought the idea of collecting money in boxes to Britain?

3.  Which two sports usually take place on Boxing Day?

4.  What is the name of the event that involves crazy costumes and  jumping into the sea on 26th   December?

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published in Graded Reading 2017
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Last modified on Wednesday, 14 February 2018 11:45

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