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What Is Boxing Day, The UK Holiday And Premier League Tradition?

Dec. 26 marks a historic day of festive fixtures in England’s top flight of football.

By Andrew Woodin
Alan Irvine head coach / manager of West Bromwich Albion watches his team play out a 1-3 defeat in the snow on Boxing Day

While most of us are still haphazardly picking up shreds of sparkly wrapping paper or settling into a robust holiday hangover spurred on by Granny’s over-spiked eggnog and stale Christmas cookies – why are they always stale? – by the time Dec.26 rolls around in the English Premier League, even Santa Claus has traded in his warm milk for a frothy pint of ale because that means the one true holiday – that most glorious time of the season when the magic of football takes center stage in every nook and cranny of British society – has finally arrived: Boxing Day.

What is Boxing Day?

Though it has nothing to do with the pugilistic sport its name suggests, Boxing Day, which has been a national holiday in the United Kingdom since 1871, always falls on Dec.26. For the history buff, it’s believed that it received its name from the Christmas boxes that employers in Victorian-era England handed out to their staff as way to thank them for all their hard work (especially as many had to work on Christmas Day). Some have even linked it to Charles Dickens who is said to have coined the term in 1833.  

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But in terms of footy, Boxing Day is the fabled time when our beloved sport is played and celebrated throughout all the leagues in the UK, providing families of all rowdiness levels a chance to gather around the television and rejoice while a full day of some of the season’s most exciting matches unfold. Rinse, lather, repeat the chaos of Christmas, minus the presents. Think of it like the NFL at Thanksgiving – it just wouldn’t be right to gobble down some turkey without also watching some team try to stomp the ever-living daylights out of the Dallas Cowboys. It’s tradition, for Pete’s sake! Besides, with marquee rival matchups dialed up in succession, this year’s footy marathon is a great way for combative in-laws to get in a couple more jabs – mostly verbal barbs, of course – just before the holiday season officially ends.

The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar’s Effect on Boxing Day 2022

Considering this year’s Premier League season resumes on Boxing Day after a six-week break for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, footy fans will have barely had enough time to catch their breath from all the heart-stopping insanity in Qatar. While the onslaught of action has been delightful, because of the unusual winter timing for the World Cup, several squads face the unprecedented problem of player burnout and fatigue. After he and Lionel Messi led La Selección to its third World Cup, Argentina’s shot-stopping star Emiliano Martinez has decided to forego playing for his Premier League club Aston Villa in its Boxing Day clash against Liverpool. Despite Erling Haaland having time to rest with Norway’s World Cup absence, Manchester City could find itself behind the eight ball in form due to the fact it sent a total of 16 players to Qatar who competed in a combined 5,180 minutes of match play, according to the Independent. Their staggering 486 kilometers of covered ground is nearly 100 more than that of its fierce rival Manchester United. Meanwhile, Southampton and Crystal Palace, who each only had two players competing in Qatar, have had the most time off to recuperate.      

What to Watch for Boxing Day 2022

Tied with Robbie Fowler for the record number of goals on Boxing Day with nine, Tottenham Hotspur’s veteran striker Harry Kane could set a new Premier League record when his club squares off against Brentford. Kane’s historically fared well in his Boxing Day outings, scoring in all six of his appearances – the longest streak in the league’s history. Despite his past fortunes, if you couldn’t tell by the 800-pound gorilla on his back, he’ll have even more motivation than usual. After his heart-breaking penalty kick miss late in England’s quarterfinal loss against France, Kane will take the pitch with a vengeance as he seeks personal redemption.

NBC's Boxing Day coverage starts at 7 a.m. ET on USA Network with Premier League Mornings, followed by Brentford vs. Tottenham at 7:30 a.m. ET. You can watch that and a host of other Premier League matches across NBC networks and Peacock. Check local listings.

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