To my Anglo-Canadian parents, Boxing Day—the Feast of Saint Stephen, the day after Christmas—was a day of visits, sports, and alms. A Victorian carol describes King Wenceslaus and his page trudging through the Boxing Day snow to take food and firewood to a peasant.
In Regency and Victorian England, servants and others of their class (many of whom had to work on Christmas) got the day off along with a “Christmas box” or cash tip. Here’s how two journals portrayed it:
At length the long-anticipated and wished-for day arrives . . . Many and various are the ways of soliciting a Christmas gift. The clerk, with respectful demeanor and simpering face, pays his principal the compliments of the season, and the hint is taken; the shopman solicits a holiday, in full expectation of the usual gift accompanying the consent; the beadle, dustmen, watchmen, milkmen, pot-boys, &c., all ask in plain terms for a Christmas-box, and will not easily take a refusal . . .
- “Boxing Day,” The Portfolio of Entertaining and Instructive Varieties in History, Science, Literature, the Fine Arts, Vol. VI, 1826
There is a day in December upon which, although it takes place during Christmas-time, class is set against class more than on any other day in the year. The poor rejoice in it, but the rich grumble exceedingly; the kitchen is uproarious with merriment, but the drawing-room floor, and especially ‘the study,’ where Paterfamilias sits, are shrouded in gloom.
‘Please, sir, the postman,’ exclaims our parlour-maid, in cherry-coloured ribbons, and with cherry cheeks, for the postman has probably kissed her; ‘and please, sir, the dustman’ (who, let us hope, has not ventured upon such a liberty); ‘and please, sir, the grocer’s young man has called for himself and his pardner.’
- “Lights and Shadows of London Life: Boxing-Night,” Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art, &c. &c. &c., Fourth Series, 1864
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.