Traditionally Boxing Day was a day to open the Christmas box to share the contents with the poor. The Christmas box was a wooden or clay container where people placed gifts
Christmas boxes were used in many ways and these are just a few that my family have heard of so far:
To Help the Poor:
An "Almes" box was placed in every church on Christmas day. Worshipers would place a gift for the poor of the parish into the box which would then be opened the day after Christmas, hence that day became known as Boxing day.
To Protect Ships:
During the exploration age a Christmas box was used by the sailors as a good luck talisman. It was a small container placed on the shop by a priest while it was still in port, and those crewmen who wanted to ensure a safe return would drop money into the box. It was then sealed and kept on board for the entire voyage. IF the ship came home Safely, the box was handed over to the priest in exchange for the saying of a Mass of thanks for the success of the voyage. The priest would keep the box sealed until Christmas when he would open it to share the contents with the poor.
A Present for the Workers:
Many poorly paid workers were required to work on Christmas Day and so took the following day off to spend with their families. During the 18th century, Lords and Ladies of the Manor would "box" up their leftover food or sometimes gifts and distribute to the tenants who lived on their lands on the day after Christmas.
This tradition still continues today -- it is customary for householders to give small gifts or monetary tips to regular visiting trades' people (milkman, dustman, coal man, paper boy etc) and in some places employers give Christmas bonuses to employees. Schools across Britain gather gifts to be put into Christmas boxes that are sent to poorer countries.
This was taken from our newsletter sent out by the base British Liaison explaining the meaning of boxing day.