Boxing Day is a public holiday celebrated in Commonwealth countries and many European nations. Commonwealth countries are those countries that once (or currently) fell under the British Empire, such as Canada and Australia. Traditionally, Boxing Day in Commonwealth countries is a public holiday celebrated on the first workday after Christmas. In recent years, popular culture has deemed that Boxing Day is always the 26th of December, though the official public holiday may be observed on a different day (in the case that the 26th falls on a Saturday or Sunday).
Boxing Day in England is usually reserved for sports such as fox hunting, football (soccer) and horseracing. A Boxing Day celebration from Sydney is the start of the annual Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race, which is one of the largest ocean racing events worldwide. In Melbourne, one Boxing Day celebration is the Boxing Day Test Match - a cricket test match that starts December 26. Boxing Day in Canada is mostly known as the day when stores sell all of their left over Christmas inventory at heavily discounted prices. This is also a popular way to celebrate Boxing Day in Australia and New Zealand.
Boxing Day in the European countries of Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, the Netherlands and Norway, is known as the second day of Christmas and is also a public holiday. Boxing Day in Ireland and Wales is known as St. Stephen's Day. St. Stephen's Day honors the first Christian martyr who was stoned to death following the crucifixion of Christ. In Ireland it is celebrated by "hunting the wren." This tradition originally consisted of groups of young boys who would hunt for a wren and then chase the bird until they either caught it or it died from exhaustion. The dead bird would then be tied top of a pole or a holly bush, which was decorated with ribbons or colored paper.
The exact origin of Boxing Day in both Commonwealth and European countries is not fully known. Some theorize that it was the day priests opened the collection boxes at their churches and distributed the money to the less fortunate. Another theory is that this was the day servants and tradesmen traditionally received Christmas gifts from their employers. These gifts were referred to as Christmas boxes, hence the name, Boxing Day. One urban legend holds that Boxing Day began as a holiday that gave people time off to clean out all of the wrapping boxes from their Christmas celebrations. This legend, however, holds very little truth.
Interestingly enough, the only commonwealth country not to celebrate Boxing Day is India. Many locations in India do, however, extend the Christmas holiday through the 26th of December. Regardless of its origins and the accompanying traditional celebrations, Boxing Day has mainly become an extension of the Christmas holiday, giving working families one more day together at this joyous time of year. It has also become a great day for retail stores to move their leftover Christmas merchandise, increasing their end of year numbers and making consumers happy as well.