Saturday 26 December 2015

Today Is Not Boxing Day

A little repost from 2010:

Today is not boxing day.

Once upon a time, there was a thing called a Christmas box. A Christmas box was a box with a small hole cut in it, like a piggy bank, through which coins could be dropped. It was kept in a church and, like a piggy bank, it could not be opened, only smashed. The smashing was done at Christmas, hence the name: Christmas box.

Christmas boxes were used by servants, apprentices, bloggers and other impoverished fools to save up some money for the frosty and festive season. In gambling dens there would be a Christmas box of tips for the benefit of the butler. As one chap put it in 1634:

It is a shame, for a rich Christian to be like a Christmas boxe, that receives all, and nothing can be got out, till it be broken in peeces.

Anyway, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the idea of the Christmas box shifted. There were lots of chaps like postmen and milkmen and butchers' boys and bloggers who didn't have loose change to be stowing away all year. Yet they still felt they deserved a little something at Christmas. So generous Victorians would make a little box of presents which they would present to all the delivery boys on the first weekday after Christmas, thus insisteth the OED.

The first weekday after Christmas therefore became known as Boxing Day. And today?

Today is a Saturday.

All those pleading postmen, beggarly bloggers and other assorted lazzaroni will arrive at your door on Monday morning, their usual truculence usurped by a poor smile and rich words. As Mr Weller remarks of his son's attempt at a Valentine's card in The Pickwick Papers:

''Tain't in poetry, is it?' interposed his father.

'No, no,' replied Sam.

'Wery glad to hear it,' said Mr. Weller. 'Poetry's unnat'ral; no man ever talked poetry 'cept a beadle on boxin'-day, or Warren's blackin', or Rowland's oil, or some of them low fellows; never you let yourself down to talk poetry, my boy.'

You have, dear poetic reader, been warned.

(A beadle, by the way, was a sort of policeman paid for by the parish).


  1. I think you’ve misunderstood what the OED meant by the word ‘weekday’, in the context of their definition of Boxing Day. Their definition of ‘weekday’ is “a single day” and “a day of the week; a day”. They didn’t specify ‘business day’ or ‘working day’ (as many banks and businesses now do) because that’s a new concept that only arose in the 20th century. This is an important distinction to make, when considering the Boxing Day tradition of the 18th and 19th centuries. In those days, the concept of a ‘weekend’ as two days off work on Saturdays and Sundays did not exist. Servants, apprentices, and especially postmen, milkmen and bloggers didn’t have the day off on Saturdays and were lucky if they had a few hours off on Sundays for religious observances. So Saturday *was* just another weekday. And, this year, it *was* Boxing Day. :-)

  2. Dear Mark,

    Is is possible to contact you over email or using some kind of private comments to a screened post in this blog?

    Thank you

    Valerie Livina

  3. Don't do it, Mark
    It can only end badly.

  4. Is there a date error in the Etymologicon? Page 27 quotes 'the court of King James I in 1653'. Dead by 1625 according to the general history record.

    1. No error: the description was published in 1653. I.E. That's the date of the writing, and not the date of the king.
      It's from Arthur Wilson's The History of Great Britain, being the Life and Reign of King James I.
      However, the book was published posthumously so the words must have been written a few years before.