Happy Boxing Day! Is that even how you reference Boxing Day? As an American, I hadn’t really heard of Boxing Day until I’d started turning into more of the Anglophile that I am now. When I first heard December 26 referenced as Boxing Day, I presumed it had something to do with boxes, namely that it was when you boxed up whatever you didn’t want of your presents and returned them to the store, perhaps because that tends to be a common American pastime. Or at least it was, in the days before online shopping. I suppose now it would be more put things in boxes and ship them back to Amazon!
But in truth, that’s not the origin of Boxing Day. Historically, it was the day servants could expect boxes with a Christmas bonus inside. Families would, of course, give boxes to their own servants, but they could also be given by others: shopkeepers looking to curry favor with a cook, valet, or lady’s maid might give over some sample wares in a box. For servants who made very little in comparison to their employers – a lady’s maid might earn around 20 guineas a year, for example – these little bonuses could make a big difference.
What other sorts of bonuses could servants expect, year-round? Well, lady’s maids and valets received perquisites – cast-off clothes, from their employers. They could choose either to keep and wear them, or sell them for the additional money they would bring. Members of staff, particularly those who came into regular contact with guests at a house party, could expect vails – in essence tips left to them for their assistance. This led many servants to prefer working in houses where house parties were common, as they could expect more to supplement their wages. Housekeepers at the most noteworthy houses had even more opportunity in this area, as they could also expect tips from traveling tourists who applied to see the house, just as Elizabeth and the Gardiners do in Pride and Prejudice. I wonder how much they gave Mrs. Reynolds?
Regardess, I hope whatever holiday you celebrate, you’ve had a wonderful one, and that you all have a lovely Boxing Day as well!