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.
Since the shock of the financial crisis and a general reappraisal of ‘values’ there has been a move to revisiting some older traditions. People are interested in buying locally, knowing the maker and trusting in the small scale. Perhaps these sentiments, together with the Internet connecting artisans working in the same field though geographically remote, are factors that have contributed to a mini revival in the idea of the Guild.
Guilds, whether merchant or craft, were an essential aspect of European medieval life. They were the groups of organised craftsmen or merchants who collectively provided assistance for their members as well as setting standards for trading or production within their profession. There is evidence of guild activity from as early as the 12th century, and from the 13th to the early 18th centuries guilds wielded significant economic and civic power in their communities.
A guild could represent one or more trade sometimes named for their profession such as Carpenters’ Guild or sometimes named after a saint such as the most powerful merchant guild in Norwich, the Guild of St George.
In 1388 in England King Richard II required all guilds to record their membership details and activities. The returns for Norwich showed there were 19 guilds including the Dyers’, Weavers’, Fullers’, Mercers’, Drapers’ and Merchants’ guilds. By 1444 the Norwich based Worsted Weavers’ Guild was so influential they gained the power to regulate the woollen cloth industry throughout East Anglia.
Nowadays there are a couple of active textiles guilds in the Norwich area. They are the Broderers’ Guild at the Cathedral and the Eastern Region of the Embroiderers’ Guild. Although they are interested in maintaining craft standards they no longer wield commercial power or support their members with alms or perform Mystery Plays, but nevertheless they continue working within the handmade and craft traditions. I, myself, have recently joined the Guild of Silk Painters.