In the Roman Catholic calendar, December 26 is marked as St. Stephen’s Day, to commemorate the first Christian martyr. For several centuries in the west, this was the only observation of the day – a religious holiday.
In England, it became a custom, perhaps in the 17th century, to allow servants to take the day after Christmas as a holiday in order to visit family. Often they were given a box to take home, perhaps money, or gifts, or even food. This tradition evolved into a day of giving ‘boxes’ to tradesmen, servants, and other who provided services. These boxes contained a gratuity of some sort for their service. It was a sort of ‘floating’ holiday, as it was either on December 26 or the first weekday after Christmas Day.
Nowadays, Boxing Day, while still on December 26, is also a bank holiday in the United Kingdom, which is observed as follows, according to Wikipedia:
“If Boxing Day falls on a Saturday, the following Monday is given as a substitute bank holiday. On the occasion when Christmas Day is on a Saturday and 26 December on a Sunday, the following Monday, 27 December, is the substitute bank holiday for Boxing Day and Tuesday, 28 December, the substitute bank holiday for Christmas Day.”
Whew! Lot of bank holidays there, my British friends! (I would hate to have to be the calendar editor trying to remember that every year!)
So, now you can see how we managed to transform Stephen into a Box!