Boxes on Boxing Day

The day after Christmas Day in the UK is known as Boxing Day. Why is it called Boxing Day? Well, the clue is in the name! However, it’s nothing to do with the sport of boxing, but everything to do with boxes.

And, no, that’s not packing boxes or even either associations with the ‘box’ room. (That’s the tiny, upstairs room often found in a traditional Victorian terraced house).

But, as with quite a few Christmas traditions in the UK, boxes for Boxing Day is a Victorian invention. During the reign of Queen Victoria household servants were given a day’s holiday on the day after Christmas and as well as receiving a boxed gift from their employers often went back home to their families bearing gifts in a box. And what might have been in such a box . . .

Well, it might have been tinned food. These old tins for Oxo and corned beef are on display at Ipswich Museum. Tinned products along with tinned fruit had become familiar food staples during the course of the nineteenth century. Such preserved food could well have been part of a such a Christmas box. How times have changed, a gift of food these days is more likely to be a very non-essential product such as luxury chocolates.

As we face the harsh truths of global warming I wonder how many of the other festive traditions – Christmas trees, Christmas cards, Christmas crackers, puddings, pies, fowls, etc, beloved of the comfortably off Victorian, will no longer be considered sustainable.

Anyway, finishing on a positive note, one type of Victoriana which has thankfully mostly melted away into history is this form of the sentimentalisation of childhood, and, along with it this type of kitsch.

Author: agnesashe

Artisan, blogger and passionate East Anglian working from home.

13 thoughts on “Boxes on Boxing Day”

  1. When we visited South Korea a couple of years ago in September, it was the the period of Chuseok, their big family festival period. And what did we see everywhere, beautifully gift wrapped an ready to offer the nearest and dearest? Yes! Tins of Spam, appreciated since the time of the Korean war. We didn’t buy any …

  2. An extremely well researched and shared story of Boxing Day Agnes. Thanks for adding some more knowledge to what I knew. The first and last images are a beautiful balance of shadow and candlelight.

    1. Ah thank you. It’s that time of year for us in the northern hemisphere to appreciate a little candlelight. Sadly, watching with horror at the seemingly relentless progress of all those bushfires. Such a tragedy for so much of the wildlife too.

      1. The fires are now happening in our State of Victoria and yes the wildlife are losing, millions of mammals, birds reptiles have been killed and of course insects . And still our pathetic federal Government is playing ideologies with the decisions that need to be made. Australia is showing the world climate change is real and happening a lot faster than we predicted in real time and in political time we are way at the back..

      2. I can’t imagine how worried you all are. Every morning when I login to Twitter there’s more terrifying news and images and I see even Western Australia now hit too. Hope you are safe in your part of Victoria. I know we can’t speak with the UK people choosing a ‘nasty clown’ for PM, but your’s is looking, to the rest of the world, like a very, very strange man indeed. How have we all ended up here?

  3. My friend went through that fad of folk-art and decoupage. I still see vestiges of it piled up in her garage, or at her mother’s house. . . Thanks for the reminder of Boxing Day origins. I knew some of it, but somehow had overlooked that, OF COURSE, the servants would have worked their fingers to the bone on Christmas Day. I had some idea it was a generous lord of the manor handing out packages to his farm workers.

    1. Oh yes, to the bone. My great, great grandmother, Hannah, was a lady’s maid for Lady Grimthorpe at Batchwood Hall, St Albans, during the late 1870s. It was a very hard life judging from the tales passed on down through the family.

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