A Very British Holiday: BOXING DAY

Originally posted on December 26, 2017, as part of The Coffee Shop series




Boxing Day is December 26, the day after Christmas, and is celebrated in Great Britain and in most areas settled by the English (the U.S. is the major exception), including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The origin of the name continues to be argued by scholars. It may be related to “Christmas boxes” given to servants and tradespeople, but could also be named for the distribution of coins to the poor from the church alms boxes.

The Oxford English Dictionary gives the earliest attestations from England in the 1830s, defining it as “the first week-day after Christmas-day, observed as a holiday on which post-men, errand-boys, and servants of various kinds expect to receive a Christmas-box.”

The term “Christmas-box” dates back to the 17th century, and among other things meant: a present or gratuity given at Christmas; in Great Britain, it was a custom for tradespeople to collect “Christmas boxes” of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year. This is mentioned in Samuel Pepys’ diary entry for 19 December 1663, but it is linked to an even older English tradition: since they would have to wait on their masters on Christmas Day, the servants of the wealthy were allowed the next day to visit their families. The employers would give each servant a box to take home containing gifts, bonuses and sometimes leftover food.

Church Alms Boxes, the boxes placed in churches where parishioners deposited coins for the poor were opened and the contents distributed on the Feast Day of St. Stephen. In the liturgical calendar of Western Christianity, Boxing Day is the second day of Christmastide, and St. Stephen’s Day, also called the Feast of St. Stephen.

Stephen was one of the seven original deacons of the Christian Church who were ordained by the Apostles to care for widows and the poor. For the success of his preaching and his devotion to Christ, St. Stephen was stoned to death by a mob. As he died, he begged God not to punish his killers. Ironically, since he was stoned to death, he became the patron saint of stone masons.

Whatever its origins, Boxing Day is now one of the British bank holidays recognized since 1871, and observed by banks, government offices, and the post office.





About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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2 Responses to A Very British Holiday: BOXING DAY

  1. shortfinals says:

    My late Uncle Clarence (the eldest of my Father’s 8 siblings), became in the mid 1920s the very last Head Gardener of Butterley Hall, Derbyshire (the property is now the Police HQ for the county). Echoes of the ‘Christmas box’ were still in evidence. The Lord and Lady of the Manor had the male servants line up on one side of the dining room and the female servants on the other. ‘Gifts’ were then dispensed – always the same, each year. The female servants got a pair of cotton stockings, the males a pair of Worsted socks! At least my Uncle and Aunt had the joys of a ‘tied cottage’ on the estate to look forward to!

    • wordcloud9 says:

      Hi shortfinals –

      For some reason, your story reminds me of this quote from the Harry Potter books:

      “One can never have enough socks,” said Dumbledore. “Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn’t get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.” It was only when he was back in bed that it struck Harry that Dumbledore might not have been quite truthful.

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