Happy Boxing Day

December 26, 2013 • 3:40 pm

In the U.S. we don’t have Boxing Day, and I was puzzled when I was first in England at Christmas. Were there fights? Was that the day you opened your presents? Why was everything closed? In fact, I still don’t know where the name comes from, and I’ll let the readers inform me.

But I wish those who live in Boxing Day Areas a happy holiday:

Boxing Dayh/t: Mary

45 thoughts on “Happy Boxing Day

  1. As OS X Dictionary (NOAD 2e) says, “from the custom of giving tradespeople a Christmas box [a present given at Christmas to tradespeople and employees] on this day”

    A practice not widely observed these days.

    More likely, the day you’re bring home lots of boxes from the post-Christmas sales! 😉


    1. I discussed this with my missus, Carol’s, English cousin over today with his wife from South Carolina (and what a bostin’ [pardon the pun] accent she has – I could die for that drawl).

      He said that it derives from big English country houses when the Lord of the Manor doled out presents to the servants on the day after Xmas – from big boxes.

      All very Downton Abbey, very noblesse oblige. No idea if it’s true, but it’s the sort of useless nugget he would know.


  2. Boxes seem to be something, like catnip, that varies from cat to cat.

    Tamar loved boxes. Baihu mostly ignores them, though he’ll occasionally chew one up. He hasn’t even done that in a long time, come to think of it.


      1. No, Tamar was already almost geriatric when I took her in. A college girlfriend whom I’ve stayed in touch with over the years…her mother moved into assisted living and couldn’t take care of Tamar any more. My friend had an husband, two girls, and a dog and a cat already in her home…so I wound up with Tamar.

        She was a real sweetheart, and I’m pretty sure she had a pleasant retirement. She was probably already in early-stage renal failure when I got her, but the symptoms didn’t manifest themselves until a year or so later. We kept her going for quite some time, including subcutaneous fluids a couple times a day. Eventually, she developed heart failure from what we had to do to keep her kidneys going. She died in my arms from an overdose of surgical anesthesia, late in the afternoon after an all-day bellyrub.


      2. Tamar? Biblical?? Don’t know about that, but it’s the name of a large river in South West England. It borders Devon & Cornwall and joins the English Channel at a place with (very) historical connections with the USA as it is from where the Pilgrim Fathers set sail -Plymouth.
        Happy New Year to all our Transatlantic cousins!

        1. Oh yeah, I’d forgotten that one, despite having driven over it at least 4 times.
          Tamar was one of those floozies who excited the lust of A.N.Other King of the Israelites, so Kingie arranged for the husband to go and raid some other tribe of goat herds and get himself killed in the process. I forget the rest of the story, but it’s a safe bet that it didn’t end well for anyone concerned.

          1. Is there any story in the Bible with a good ending for the characters involved? Aside, of course, from the conquerors who got to loot and rape and drink the blood of their enemies.

            …anyway, I never did ask about the origins of Tamar’s name, but I would be surprised if it was directly Biblical. Indirectly, yes, of course…but I suspect she was named after an human friend / relative / etc.


            1. Ben, any happy ending in the Bible? Esther? Good for her and the Jews, in true Hollywoo arc she became a queen. Not so good for the King of Persia who commanded his and his sons’ death in the land of the birthplace of chess. So, a draw, agreed.

              Written possibly in Susa, Persia. Long after Alexander the Great’s invasion of Judah/Israel.


          2. Tamar was Onan’s missus: obviously not a happy marriage. The editor who bunged their story in Genesis obviously had a very modern Jewish sense of irony.

            1. Originally Tamar was a date-goddess. The pagan Arabs used to dress a date tree in women’s clothes and worship it as a form of deity.

              Tamar in the Bible is probably a historisized pagan goddess. There is a story in the Book of Genesis, where Judah is portrayed as having sexual intercourse with his daughter-in-law Tamar, who had disguised herself as a sacred prostitute, and from there the the lineage of Judah, the Jewish patriarch continues. As the worship of the goddesses often took the form of a priestess of the goddess in the role of sacred harlot, who ritually had sex with tribal chieftains this whole story is jarring, but makes sense if it is based in tribal mythology from a more polytheistic era that wouldn’t die out but needed to be explained away.

              1. Yup, Davey,

                Interesting. I suppose that the Genesis Tamar story is probably from the J source, the pro-Yahweh person or faction, from Judah in the early 8th century BCE, and, as you say, some embellishment of an old story.

                OT monotheism is first securely attested in the 530s BCE by the second unknown prophet in Isaiah – in a forgery!

                So the Tamar tale all goes with the early polytheistic period when Yahweh had his consort Asherah, the fertility goddess.


  3. There was a kerfuffle on George Takei’s FB post when he mentioned only the UK wrt Boxing Day. Canadians told him we have Boxing Day here too and then a guy called Horton said he didn’t care about Canada, which made several people laugh because his name was “Horton” and he was saying such a thing.

    Anyway, here is some Canadian article about Boxing Day.

    1. Australia also observes Boxing Day with a holiday, but the only real importance of this day for most real Australians is that it is the start of the five day cricket test against arch rivals, England.

      (It’s the fourth of five tests and often the decider. However this year Australia has already won “The Ashes” by comprehensively winning the first three tests)


    2. George should have his ears boxed too!

      Boxing day sales are great, though they seem to drag on and on into the January sales. But of course now that Canada has recently jumped unto the Black Friday bandwagon, the Boxing Day-week-month frenzies might abate.

  4. My parents (from Toronto) called it Boxing Day. As a kid I assumed it referred to the process of putting unwanted gifts back in their boxes and returning them to the store.

      1. Michael Quinion’s excellent website should come with a health warning, “seriously addictive”. I reckon I’ve lost weeks of my life in there.

  5. It’s one of the hardest working days for many in the retail business, processing returns and exchanges.

    For those unfortunates on commision, it’s particularly tough. Every previous sale they made that’s now returned represents negative income.

    1. Oops, left out “in the US”. And we in the US could use a more formal celebration in the US to give these folks an extra day off, many of whom worked long hours right through Christmas Eve and have to be right back at it the day after Christmas.

  6. I understand that the Tea Party got interested in bringing this holiday to the US when they heard it was a day devoted to the underprivileged but lost interest when they found out it wasn’t actually about going around and punching poor people in the face.

  7. In NZ it lets you eat the xmas leftovers before you get boxed into traffic as everyone goes on holiday on the same day.

  8. The name comes from giving ‘Christmas boxes’ to tradesmen on the 26th (so says Wikipedia and I think it’s correct). By the 1960’s I understood it was just a little gift for the postman.

  9. It used to be called “Bach sing day” when we all would gather round the family pipe organ which was imaginary so we had to sing the parts.
    Then it got auto corrected.

  10. As mentioned above, there’s no definitive – or even particularly plausible – origin story of Boxing Day (either the holiday or the term for it).

    Lots of people are very confident of their own personal favourite though, even when it doesn’t make much sense:

    It’s the day people take the empty boxes out of their houses? Come on, there is obviously no such tradition or any obvious reason why there would ever be one. And why would that become a holiday? Was it the day servants took away the boxes? Were they allowed the rest of the day off for doing so? No, of course not. It wouldn’t take ALL the servants to take away the boxes and I doubt very much that they’d be allowed the day off anyway. And why would every household do things the same way?

    The upper class gave presents to their servants in boxes, hence the name? Well, in the north of England at least, we occasionally (if in an old-fashioned mood) refer to someone’s christmas present as their ‘christmas box’. There might be something in that, I suppose, but I find it difficult to see how that tradition would translate into the modern bank holiday. But I admit it has a vague air of plausibility about it. Or rather, I can sort of imagine how that might come about, if I squint and ride past on a galloping horse.

    Another story that has a vague air of plausibility is that there was a tradition of putting money in alms boxes for the poor the day after Christmas. I’ve no idea whether there was such a tradition or whether there’s evidence for it, but it sounds like something that might happen. It sounds like something that could deserve the name ‘boxing’. It sounds like something that might eventually become a holiday.

    In other words, it sounds a lot less glib to me than any of the other explanations I know of. But I still don’t have any faith in that explanation.

  11. The one I always heard from my parents as a kid was the “give presents to the servants” day. Of course, we are Canadian and also have no servants, so the English origin is largely irrelevant; Boxing Day is just a day to relax and enjoy time off.

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