An English Christmas 4: Boxing Day

This is an unusual year: Boxing Day comes on Saturday, and English people are divided on how to handle that.

Boxing Day—the day after Christmas—is the day employers traditionally gave servants Christmas boxes containing presents or cash, and it’s still a public holiday. In big houses, the servants were on call all of Christmas day with all their usual work to do plus anything extra called for by the occasion, and Boxing Day was the servants’ day off, the day they celebrated.

A view of Box Hill, which is maintained by the National Trust. Get information on the Trust or on visiting Box Hill from one of the Featured Links on the right-hand side of this page.

A few years ago we had some visitors from the US who decided to spend the afternoon of Boxing Day taking a walk on, fittingly, Box Hill. If you’ve read Jane Austen’s Emma (or seen one of the films), you may remember that there’s a big picnic scene on Box Hill–which is less than 30 miles east of us. Jane Austen’s house at Chawton is less than 30 miles to the west, too; if you’re interested in English literature, one of the great things about living here is that with very little trouble, you can visit the country places associated with all kinds of authors—Jane Austen, George Bernard Shaw, Rudyard Kipling, Virginia Woolf, and more—not to mention the spot where Agatha Christie’s car was found when she temporarily disappeared in 1926, and the part of the Thames where Kenneth Grahame set The Wind in the Willows. And of course you can’t move in London without walking in the footsteps of more luminaries than you can count.

So our visitors set out for Box Hill, but found the day a bit breezier than they were equipped to handle. One lady headed back to sit in the warm car, but not before insisting that one of the gentlemen, who had no hat, take her hat, and that another gentleman, who had only a light jacket, take her coat. The third gentleman was better-equipped for the cold, but as he didn’t like breathing cold air, he’d worn a medical mask.

When they got back, the man in the girlish hat with fluffy balls on the ends of the cords tied under his chin said to the man in the medical mask and the man in the clearly feminine coat that he was surprised that British people who pass you on the walking trails don’t greet you the way people do back in the US. I suspect if he’d come upon three foreigners in similar get-ups in his home state, he might have been a bit reticent, too.

This year was milder, and we did go out for a walk—with our own hats and coats—though not to Box Hill, just around a pond on one of the nearby commons. We ran into lots of people happy to greet us and be greeted, most of them walking their dogs. (Those on horseback were past us and gone so fast that there wasn’t time to speak.) I don’t think it was just that the Christmas season had filled people with a glow towards their fellow human beings; I think you’d find the same friendliness there on any other Saturday, too.

But if Boxing Day comes on Saturday, where’s the fun in having a day off? Most people would probably have a free day on Saturday anyway. So some businesses are recognizing today as the holiday, some are closing on Monday, and most seem to be doing both, so that Christmas will stretch to a four-day weekend this year.

No bad thing that, especially for those of us who put on the Christmas dinners. We may not be servants anymore, but we’ve slaved in the kitchen and deserve that extra day off.

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2 Comments

Filed under Culture, My Life & Stuff That Happened, Travel

2 responses to “An English Christmas 4: Boxing Day

  1. Kristine Krozek

    Mary Ellen – What a delight these four Christmas holiday posts are! I have thoroughly enjoyed them and have sent them around to friends. They resonated on many fronts and the story about your walker friends made me laugh out loud. We too have made plum pudding and enjoyed it greatly, though the collapse of the pudding as it was being served at a company dinner was a less than stellar moment. We make fruitcakes every year using James Beard’s mother’s recipe (from Delights and Prejudices) for Black Fruitcake; it’s a lovely, rich and complex cake doused in copious amounts of cognac. Though there is much joking in the US, as you say, about fruitcakes, we have a list of people who wait for our cakes with bated breath. One of them actually said to me, following his mother’s passing, “Now that she’s gone, could we possibly inherit her fruitcake?” We also once made our own mincemeat from Beard’s recipe. It contains fresh tongue, brisket of beef, suet, raisins and other dried fruits, stout, sherry, cognac and strawberry preserves. All of which sat in a crock for a month or more. It was just divine but so rich that none of us could eat more than a bite or two. Thank you for posting the link to the Festival of Nine Lessons which I have heard about from my sister for many years but which is not broadcast in the Bay Area. We listened to it for the first time this year and enjoyed it greatly. Many thanks for your marvelous posts and best wishes to you both for the New Year!

  2. Pingback: Wanna Bet? | M E Foley's Anglo-American Experience Blog

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