In many countries, especially those associated with the United Kingdom, December 26th is known as Boxing Day. There are divergent views as to the source of this day and the origin of the name of this secular holiday.

The Oxford-English Dictionary claims the observance denotes that on this day workers sought out holiday gratuities, or gift boxes. For some, it was a day to celebrate Christmas, since they worked on December 25th. In appreciation of their working on a holiday, the workers were given gift boxes to take home on their day off. Indeed, in the United States, it is common for people to give tips to bus drivers, teachers, door-men, newspaper deliverers, sanitation collectors, domestic help and the like.

Others claim the “box” does not refer to one’s laborers and service employees, but to the alms box found in places of worship, to provide funds for the needy. Finally, in some countries, Boxing Day is a shopping day featuring huge price reductions (similar to Black Friday in the United States). Some have even opted for Boxing Week.

The two primary goals of Boxing Day, i.e. tipping loyal employees and service providers, and offering alms to the poor, may have an early Jewish source as we find Jewish practices regarding the poor and service employees that are associated with holidays, which were instituted centuries prior to Boxing Day.

The custom among Ashkenazic Jews to recite Yizkor on the holidays (Yom Kippur, Shmini Atzeret, Pesach and Shavuot) is connected to the tzedakah Jews are mandated to share with the poor to enable them to experience joy on the holidays. Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, laws of Yom Tov 6:18) writes that those who rejoice on a holiday without helping to provide joy to the Jewish poor are really celebrating hedonistically. Only later, did the practice begin to dedicate tzedakah to the memory of one’s loved ones. A critical component of Yizkor is committing funds to tzedakah. This practice parallels the alms box that was prominent on Boxers Day.

The genesis of Chanukah gelt (“Chanukah money” in Yiddish), finds its source in 17th century Poland, where the children were given coins to be distributed to their Torah teachers. This parallels the practice of offering gratuities on Boxing Day.

Happy Boxing Day to one and all. Jewish Treats encourages one and all to tip and offer charity generously.

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