Boxing Day in the U.K.

In the U.K. yesterday was what is known as Boxing Day. For those of you across the pond and various other global puddles that prevent me travelling to meet you in person to discuss this, I thought I would give you a bit of a break before I weighed in with the intricate stuff. If you like Downton Abbey, all I can say is you’re probably ahead of the game.

Boxing Day is a U.K. oddity that confuses many people who live elsewhere. This day is always celebrated on the 26th of December. The name of the day has nothing to do with boxing as in boxers, nor has it anything to do with packing cases, or boxes themselves.  Clear so far?

Boxing Day is a relic. It is an antiquity, an antique in social form if you will, and to my mind rather sad.

I’ll digress here for just a moment and say I have to thank my long deceased grandmother for manipulating my accent as a child. If she had not instructed me as she did I would never have been known locally, as I was at one time, for talking ‘posh’, I’d have been like all the others, and spake broad Black Country. Such a thing would have fettered my employment possibilities in the era in which I grew up. 

You might read that and wonder if such a thing were possible. Could an individual’s future, in what was the late 20th Century, be dependent entirely on accent and dialect? My answer is yes, and it is with great delight I recall the memory of my other grandmother, who when aged 13 years in the early 20th Century was told by her parents she had ‘a place in service’ with the local Vicar. Sixty years on, my Gran still laughed as she said. “I told ‘em nuts. I said I’m going to work at the glass factory.” She was as good as her word and worked there all her working life. Two different tales and both had very different outcomes.

I was lucky enough to benefit from each experience.

But, what is this crazy day about, I hear you asking? Please believe me I’ve not yet opened the gin and will try to explain. Boxing Day is tied-up with household service, from as far back as the 19th century and probably even longer.  This was the day household servants, maids, grooms, cooks, butlers, tweenies, washer women, gardeners and as many other half hidden creatures who made a wealthy home comfortable and functional got their Christmas Box, or gift. I think in medieval times it may well have been what was known as a quarter day. I’ll try to look that up for you and let you know.


There are certainly Victorian pictures of the long line of household staff all waiting to be greeted and given their Christmas Box by their masters and mistresses. There are records of some Victorian households where the true nature of Saturnalia held sway for one day. This is a custom that can be traced back to Roman times, where the lowest of the low ruled the household, for a day or part of one. Just in case some of you wonder, no decision made that day was binding in any way on any other day of the year. Something about all this makes my shoulders twitch.

holkham servants

There is also another notion whispered too, that on Boxing Day, wealthy ladies could skim through the multiple gifts they had received and if they didn’t want any one of them, they could pass them on to their maids. I always found that activity the height of ingratitude in all respects.

I prefer Boxing Day as it is now in the early 21st century. A day of discounted sales at the shops for everyone to enjoy in person or shopping on the web. Alternatively it can be a day as mine has been, pleasurable and easy with a visit to family members and no need for boxes all round.

Enjoy the holiday season.


Daisy Banks



2 thoughts on “Boxing Day in the U.K.

  1. I lived in the UK for a couple of years and never knew the real reason. Huh. Even some of my mates didn’t! But we did love that it was another day off work and like you, most spent it catching up with other friends and family. In Ireland, they celebrate St. Stephen’s Day on the same day and that was just as welcome for relaxing and meeting up at the pub. Hope you had a great Christmas Daisy!

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