An English Christmas 4 (Revisited): Boxing Day

I’ve been reluctant to let go of Christmas this year; the tree is still up, the cards still on display, the string of Victorian-style paper decorations still tied along the banister rail.

It’s all got to come down soon, if only because the borough council’s tree recycling programme (US: program) will end and we could be stuck with an 8-foot Nordmann fir and no way to get rid of it.   One year when we missed the last tree collection day, we lopped off branches bit by bit and burned them in the fireplace, but had no hatchet to carve up the trunk, so for more days than I’d like to admit, until we had time to get to the ironmonger’s (US: hardware store) to buy some kind of axe, we had the bare upright trunk perched in the corner of the living room.  We called it the Christmas Stick.

Before I admit Christmas is over, then, I’ll re-run one more Christmas post from the sequence you’ve been reading recently, written a couple of years ago.  It’s about Boxing Day—the day after Christmas—which this year fell on a Wednesday, but back then—well, you can read it——

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.


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

7 responses to “An English Christmas 4 (Revisited): Boxing Day

  1. With our council (Harrow) we have a lot more to worry about than Xmas tree retrievals – which they won’t do. If we place out multi-coloured bins in the wrong order, or even more than two inches to the left, they just ignore them.

    • Sounds like your kerbside service is a harsh taskmaster. Our council doesn’t pick up trees at the kerb (US: curb); we have to take them to one of 30 recycling stations in the borough. And to find out where they are takes, as with all attempts to get info from the council’s website, clicking again and again and again on the same phrase on different screens. Yes, I want to know about holiday changes to rubbish collection dates and where I can recycle my tree, but if I click on that, I go to another page on which they offer the same phrase along with other options, so I click again, and again, and again.

      There’s a blog post in that, I think. That and the fact that to phone the library now, I have to press 1 for this and 2 for that and tell them no, I am not ringing to record a birth or death, or to request a marriage license…

      • I know how you feel. These days I just go to the town hall and make a nuisance of myself until I speak to a real person. Although, with some of the people there, I’m still not entirely sure that they are real.

  2. Malcolm

    In Ireland we call it Saint Stephen’s Day though everyone understands ‘Boxing Day’, of course; the associated traditions are pretty much the same. Two of the latest things to do with Christmas Trees after 12th Night: Take them to the Zoo, where they serve as fodder for many of the animals; or take part in tree-throwing contests. The Dublin record yesterday was 10 metres.

  3. My tree is STILL up. We got busy and just forget to take it down. It only had lights on it this year, so it kind of serves as an over sized nightlight in my library, but it really is time to go.

  4. KMN

    Well lucky for us the forestry commission where we live always as post- Christmas a temporary Christmas tree recycling skip type thing going on the forest that surrounds our town, which considering they are the ones that supply the town with them in the first place it makes sense.

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