Boxing Day! I’m celebrating this day, also called St Stephens Day after the first Christian martyr, in Vancouver BC — where it is a really big deal. It’s the shopping equivalent to America’s Black Friday, although even our odious post-Thanksgiving tradition is rumored to have spread north across the border to keep Canadians from heading south to our big-box stores for deals.

What is Boxing Day? Celebrated throughout the British Commonwealth as an official holiday; Brits, for instance, get four days off work this weekend: Saturday, Sunday, Monday for Christmas and then Tuesday for Boxing Day!

You’ve probably heard it has something to do with boxing up all the Christmas decorations, or boxing up the unwanted gifts to return them to stores, or even actual fighting among families too tired of arguing with one another after “enjoying” the holidays together.

None of these are true. Here’s some generally accepted explanations of how Boxing Day might have got its name:

Some historians say the holiday developed because servants were required to work on Christmas Day, but took the following day off. As servants prepared to leave to visit their families, their employers would present them with gift boxes.

Church Alms Boxes

Another theory is that the boxes placed in churches where parishioners deposited coins for the poor were opened and the contents distributed on December 26, which is also the Feast of St. Stephen.

As time went by, Boxing Day gift giving expanded to include those who had rendered a service during the previous year. This tradition survives today as people give presents to tradesmen, mail carriers, doormen, porters, and others who have helped them.

Of course, for many people all over the world, Boxing Day will always be remembered as the anniversary of the third largest earthquake ever recorded and the resulting deadly tsunami six years ago that killed a quarter of a million people, one of the largest natural disasters ever recorded. The reason there’s no YouTube atop this post is that they were all simply too disturbing for me to put up, even on a Late Night thread.

So on this Boxing Day, not really even a holiday in America, please remember the victims of that disaster. Please think about what steps you’ve taken since then to prepare for a similar kind of disaster if it struck your own community. We need to be ready; the earth is full of surprises, and we aren’t being very nice to her lately.