When it comes to monarchies and class warfare, no one appears to do it better than the Brits. While many in the U.S. claim England as its cultural predecessor, there are a few arcane customs that persist in the U.K. that largely remain a mystery to Americans. December 26 – known as Boxing Day – is one of these classically enigmatic English customs.
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When Americans hear the word boxing, the visual image we usually conjure up is of two guys with gloves going at it in the ring. This automatically reveals our unrefined, uncouth nature. Boxing day is most assuredly not a boxing match. All urbane, sophisticated Brits know that Boxing Day is the servant’s day off. It is when the master doles out his largesse in lovely wrapped packages for the unpolished masses.
The origin of Boxing Day may have its roots in the Middle Ages when churches put out an “Alms Box” for the poor. The British practise reveals the munificence of the master by giving each servant a box containing tips, bonuses, and/or gifts. History records that their generosity knew no bounds for at times the working class even received boxed-up left-over food. Considering the English diet consists of such delicacies as pigeon, rabbit, and quail just the thought of this might turn the average American stomach. But wait, there’s more.
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Though the Commonwealth – the list of countries under British rule – has dwindled in recent times, many current and former members of this esteemed group continue to celebrate Boxing Day in a variety of ways. Hong Kong, for instance, still declares Boxing Day a national holiday, as does Australia and New Zealand. In Canada Le Lendemain de Noel, as they call it in French, is a federal holiday. In South Africa, they don’t have much in the way of masters and servants any longer – so they go to the beach. And in Bermuda, a costumed group of dancers puts on quite a show for the plebian masses.
Not to be outdone, Gov. William Weld officially proclaimed December 26 as “Boxing Day in Massachusetts.” Weld, however, was quick to point out that the New England holiday wasn’t established so much as a master/servant celebration as it was to “transport the English tradition to the United States.”
Despite the occasional American like Weld who tried to co-opt Boxing Day, the holiday is less and less an upper crust English tradition. It has, in fact, taken on the air of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Liberty Nation’s Managing Editor Mark Angelides, who lives in the U.K., opines:
“Usually, the extended family gathers at the largest available home, where the unfortunate head of the household puts together a cold meat spread and party food for the uncles and aunts to nibble. Late gifts are exchanged, and booze, especially among the older generations, is liberally consumed. Grandparents fall asleep, monopolizing every available sofa, the kids show off their new toys with delight until the aforementioned drunk uncles tread on the new toys, smashing them to smithereens, sending the screaming children into their parent’s arms.”
Thus, it should not surprise those of us who profess no peerage or servants that Boxing Day has largely become a day to go shopping. It’s a European version of Black Friday when everyone heads to the store. Blockbuster sales are counted on for those willing to stand in line or as the British say, “stand in the queue.” In 2018 Boxing Day sales fell flat. According to The Telegraph, “Average footfall across the UK fell by 3.1 percent, experts said, disappointing retailers who had hoped that the festive period would provide a boost at the end of a bad year.”
So, it seems that Boxing Day has turned into a day of dusting off the old credit card, seeking the best discount, and saying, “charge it.” How utterly vulgar and gauche and how very American.
Read more from Leesa K. Donner.