Boxing Day in the UK

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Boxing Day is the day after Christmas when tradesmen and servants were traditionally given tips or gifts for their service. 

Here’s what Rebecca wrote about it from the UK…

The ‘Christmas box’ was traditionally for those who serviced your house; bin men, milkmen & coal men! Well, in the last century. Before that, it included house-maids, butlers, chauffeurs, etc. when they were given ‘boxing day’ off – with a Christmas box.

No doubt they worked their socks off all over Christmas, but were given the following day off, to have a delayed Christmas with their family. They were each given a box (literal or symbolic) which I believe contained straight money, but could have contained a gift too. It was called the Christmas box.  Hence it became known as boxing day in the UK.

I guess that changed over time so the average person tipped those who’d provided a service – but only deliveries / collections for the house. And it was still called a Christmas Box until quite recently.

Later Rebecca wrote:

I found out that there was probably just one box; the master’s & the staff queued up for him to give money from it. It was unlikely that they received gifts too.

There seem to have been different variations of the Christmas Box and it may have changed over time and depending one’s social position. 

I found the following text about Boxing Day from a book from 1824 called "The Perennial Calendar,and Companion to the Almanack" by T. Forster (printed in London):

The custom of annual donations at Christmas and on New Year’s Day is very ancient, being copied by the Christians from the Polytheists of Rome… These presents, nowadays, are more commonly made on the morrow of Christmas. From this circumstance the festival of St. Stephen has got the nickname of Christmas Boxing Day, and by corruption Boxing Day.

In London, and in many other parts of Europe, large families and establishments keep regular lists of tradesmen’s servants, apprentices, and other persons, who come about making a sort of annual claim on them for a Christmas Box on this day. The practice, however, is declining; and in some places is now confined to children. For Parish Boys, and children at School, bring about their samples of writing, and ask for money; and the Bellman, the Watchman, the Waits, and the Church Band, still repeat their wonted annual calls on the hospitable feelings with which a smoking Christmas board of Turkey, plum pudding, and minced pies, inspires the pious head of an old fashioned family mansion.

But this Season is particularly dear to children, who anxiously count on their little Christmas Boxes for months beforehand…

In modern times, Boxing Day is a public holiday in the UK and throughout much of the Commonwealth. 

Here’s what Frances wrote about Boxing Day in modern times:

Traditionally Christmas was for church/family, Boxing Day for presents (given in boxes, hence title). Today stores close for Christmas and have taken on the Americanism of Boxing Day Sales (closest we have to your Black Friday, which I found interesting!). Both days are more or less regarded as family-exclusive days so are bank (public) holidays, although, as I say, stores open for Boxing Day sales.

Boxing Day is called St. Stephen’s Day or the Day of the Wren in Ireland. 

Many thanks to Rebecca and Frances for sharing information about Boxing Day.

-Mama Lisa

This article was posted on Friday, December 21st, 2012 at 4:05 pm and is filed under Australia, Boxing Day, Canada, Christmas, Countries & Cultures, Customs and Traditions, Day of the Wren, England, Holidays Around the World, Ireland, St. Stephen's Day, Tipping, United Kingdom. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “Boxing Day in the UK”

  1. Russel Says:

    It is a good thing that Boxing day is created for our fellow tradesmen and servants. They get very excited during this day because they can be with their family and loved ones. They have been working very hard and it is only right to give them this privilege and gifts that they deserve.

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