It happened today - December 26, 2015

December 26 is “boxing day” and has been since… since… we’re not sure. Apparently the first definitive reference is from England in the 1830s but it must have started earlier or there’d have been nothing to refer to.

As to why it’s boxing day, all enthusiasts for the “sweet science” put down your gloves. It’s because before it was Dec. 26, “boxing day” was the first weekday after Christmas and was a holiday on which servants of various sorts including postmen and errand boys received a “Christmas box” from their employers or patrons.

In that form it’s a great deal older than the early 19th century; Samuel Pepys refers to it in his diary in December 1663. And it wasn’t new then; since before there were dishwashers, vacuum cleaners and that sort of thing servants of the wealthy were expected to attend to their masters on Christmas Day itself, they got the next day off to visit family and would receive boxes with gifts, money and sometimes leftover food.

Leftover food might seem kind of grubby. But remember, there weren’t refrigerators then either, meaning not only the stuff would spoil but also that the poor, even the decently employed, generally had fairly monotonous diets. Especially if a thoughtful master or mistress took care to see that there were some good leftovers, it would have been a spectacular treat.

Nowadays, of course, the pile of presents is bigger and the gadgets and goodies are far “better” than the wooden toys and nuts that might have been in such a box. And we’ve done away with servants and informal obligations in favour of unionization and automation. And holidays don’t just grow up informally; they’re officially declared. For instance in South Africa in 1994 Boxing Day was renamed Day of Goodwill with, I can’t help thinking, an immediate and measurable decline in that quality. Moreover we now celebrate Boxing Day with an orgy of shopping even though we just got presents the day before because we are so progressive and prosperous and things just happen so wonderfully fast.

Somehow I feel just a bit wistful for a Victorian or even Samuel Pepys boxing day, though.

It happened todayJohn Robson