Boxing Day

Boxing Day

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!

The Kitchen at Saltram

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.

More of the servants’ space at Saltram

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!

Servant’s bedroom at Saltram



21 Responses to Boxing Day

  1. Yes, very interesting. Reminds me of our tour of Biltmore Estate.

    BTW December 26 is also St. Stefan’s day, the name day (i.e. “other” birthday) of anyone named Stefan, Steven, or derivatives like Stephanie.

  2. My sister’s English roommate told me that historically, Boxing Day was because the servants worked on Christmas and had the day after Christmas off. They put together boxes of food for the household to eat and they called it Boxing Day. I thought that was the only explanation for many years. Now I think that there’s a number of reasons, modern and historical and probably regional as well that the day after Christmas came to be known as Boxing Day. Regardless of the reason, I have always thought the name was tremendously fun, and if I get a calendar that doesn’t label December 26, I always pencil it in.

  3. Sophie, thank you for this wonderful post! It is a great reminder to think of those less fortunate than others.

  4. Thanks for explaining the origin. When I first heard the term, I thought it had to do with the sport of boxing and didn’t understand why that would be celebrated the day after Christmas. Makes much more sense now.

  5. I’m in the UK (Scotland) and ever since I was little the significant thing about Boxing Day was the sales. Everyone headed out on Boxing Day to spend their Christmas money in the sales and it used to be a big event for my friends and I. Probably still is for most people, judging by the reports of record spending and info on the best sales to be had (if you Google Boxing day sales)

    I can’t be bothered with it any more but plenty here can and the big ‘NEXT SALE’ is the talking point for many in the UK on Boxing Day and people start queuing at the shops at 1am in the morning!

    • Yes, the day after Christmas here in the states has the same significance for many of our population – sales…or the return or trade-in of gifts which are not wanted or don’t fit or even are duplicates. I avoid going out that day as well as “Black Friday”, the day after Thanksgiving in the USA when all the stores have big sales for Christmas shoppers.

    • Here those are unimaginatively termed “day after Christmas” sales. Boxing Day has a much better ring to it! I’m with Sheila – I avoid going shopping on those days. Indeed I do as much of my shopping online as I can. Thank you for your comment!

  6. Like Anji, I always thought of pugilism when Boxing Day was mentioned…just was not something I gave a lot of thought to as we don’t “observe” it here in the states nor has it been part of our history. But now that someone has explained it the matter has clarity. Thanks for that tid-bit of information.

  7. Happy Boxing Day, Sophie! As a Brit, I’ve known about the origins of the name for a long time now, though as a child, I always assumed it was something to do with boxing as in pugilism! It wasn’t until I went to secondary school (your high school, I think) at age 11, that I found out the true meaning.

    It’s only in recent times that I’ve heard about the servants supplementing their income in the way you describe. If valets and lady’s maids sold the cast-offs they received, I wonder where they would sell them and what their master/mistress would think if they saw their old clothes out and about near where they lived? Perhaps it was an accepted thing, or maybe they had so many clothes that they couldn’t remember what they had given away?

    • I hadn’t thought about a connection to pugilism! I suppose our American Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) is a little close to that, as every year there are a few scrabbles over heavily discounted things like televisions, hahaha.

      I do wonder about selling the cast-off clothing, too. It would have been highly fashionable, yet outdated. Certainly someone moving in the first circles wouldn’t have bought it, so I think a lady wouldn’t have expected to encounter her old gown on anyone she knew. But then who was buying it? And now that I think about it, that might make a rather interesting anecdote for a story, for a woman to recognize someone wearing her old gown. I might file that away for future use. 😉

      Thanks for your comment, Anji!

      • Perhaps what they called “rag men” purchased the items. Such was done in London, and there were those who traveled through the countryside collecting rags to sale or to repurpose.

  8. I came to know about boxing day many years ago when my children were in high school. We hosted a girl from London through the American Field Services to spend a year with us for her Senior year in high school. We learned customs, foods, culture and we shared our customs, food, and culture with her. We traveled and took her to museums, art institutes, etc. We also did fim things with her. We kept in touch for awhile but haven’t heard from her in a very long time. It was a great family experience.
    Happy Boxing Day to you and thank you for the article.

    • Oh, what an amazing thing for your family! It sounds so interesting to have a cultural exchange like that, both for your family and for her. Thank you for your comment, MaryAnn!

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