In the United Kingdom and in some countries of The Commonwealth the 26th of December is called ‘Boxing Day’. For most of the world it’s an unknown designation and somewhat meaningless. And if you Google it you’re immediately told the name has no reference to some pugilistic sport! Mind you, coming during the Christmas period when families and friends, some of whom you may have not seen for 364 days, descend expecting to be entertained and deigning to peel a potato or feigning allergy to a Brussel sprout, you could be forgiven for connecting Boxing Day to some physical activity of an aggressive type!
The name is thought to have originated way back, maybe even during the Roman occupation of Britain or more likely in the Middle Ages; a box for collecting money was kept in the church – the Alms Box. (Alms – money, food or other donations given to the poor or needy; anything given as charity and used in many religions.) On the day after the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the monks would go out and distribute the money, a little celebration for the needy. The practice continues today and in the UK there are many Alms Houses, where the focus is on giving charity and shelter. But I also sense a link between Boxing Day and the class divide somewhat; those who could afford to have servants would give them ‘a little something’ to allow them to give a present or buy some stuff for their family when they went ‘home’ during the Christmas period.
My step-father would produce lots of plain little brown envelopes, labelled in his well-formed but often difficult-to-read writing: Postman 1, Rubbish 1, Rubbish 2, Milkman, Grocer Deliveryman (for the groceries were often delivered – see PC 23) etc. He laid them out on the old oak hall table, in a neat and orderly fashion …… and over a week they all reached their intended recipient. In those days the Boxing Day tip was made up of coins, as in the UK you could buy quite a lot with an old Ten Shilling note …….. which now equates to a 50 pence piece.
Here in Hove we try and give something to the various people whose cheery disposition throughout the year deserves recognition. Rosie our Postie’s mail round changed mid-year so she doesn’t qualify this year; but we used to do our bit when it was raining and she would come in for a hot cuppa. Her replacement, Steve, had a bottle of wine and some chocolates; Peter the window cleaner likes red wine. And then it was the challenge to catch the rubbish collectors. Despite the Christmas season, there are still a few unscrupulous people about so we didn’t wish to simply leave some beer sitting on top of the bins (note the completely unscientifically-tested decision – wine for the postman, beer for the rubbish man!!) The lorry that collects plastic & paper for recycling is a different sort to the one that picks up the glass; so two different crews for beer and biscuits, although looking at the size of some of these guys I suspect they get a great deal of biscuits – all year around!!
A letter in The Times described how a neighbour was observed opening the door to one of the local dustmen. “Good day sir!” the chap said, “I collect your rubbish all the year round and have come for my dues.” “Well! That’s very kind of you to collect my rubbish. It’s quite probable that I teach one of your children all the year around!” ……… and simply shook him by the hand!
Apart from the niceness of giving a little something, Boxing Day has traditionally been associated with taking long walks in the crisp air (This year the daily temperature here in the UK was about 14°C so hardly ‘crisp’!), going to the nearest racecourse to bet on horses running around, or going to the SALES! Bargain hunters queue from early morning at various large department stores all over the country anxious to bag that item reduced by 30-50% ……. although this year it seems the trend for online shopping is beginning to reduce the number of shoppers to the physical High Street.
So Boxing Day is over for another year, and I certainly hope that the true spirit of Christmas, kindness to your fellow human beings, demonstrated particularly on Boxing Day but more hopefully throughout the year, continues into the future.
Last scribbles for 2016, a year of real emotional highs and lows. Will 2017 be better? I guess it will be what it will be.
Richard 31st December 2016
PS We flew to Lisbon on Boxing Day to spend some time with Celina’s brother and family. They don’t do ‘Boxing Day’ in Portugal!
PPS The conductor Sir Neville Marriner died in October aged 92. He was world class and is particularly noted for forming The Academy of St Martin In The Fields, named after the Trafalgar Square church in London where they performed. Well known for his directness, there is a story he was getting tired of being interrupted during a rehearsal by the sound of a pneumatic drill a man was using to dig up the road outside. Storming outside, he went up to the chap and, in a loud voice, asked: “Are you interested in sex and travel, sir?” (ask me if you don’t understand this!)