Boxing Day has been part of Christmas traditions in England, Canada and other commonwealth countries for over 500 years. References to the Christmas boxes given to tradesmen and household servants were mentioned in Pepys’ diaries in the 17th century and the tradition certainly goes back farther than that.
Generally, these people didn’t get the whole day off – as is offered to Cratchit in The Christmas Carol – but were expected to render service to their masters – cooking, serving, cleaning and tending to the over-indulged – throughout Christmas Day. In recompense they were given a day off – usually the day after Christmas or the day after that and sent off to visit their nearby family, usually with a small box of gifts, gratuities or even leftover food. These boxes are what give Boxing Day its name.
Even when I was a child, it was customary to hand a small envelope of cash to the postman, the milkman, the paperboy or anyone who had provided you a service during the previous year. While you might give an actual present to the lady who cleaned your house, others, whose service was not directly in your pay, expected and often received a small tip, especially if they had been particularly faithful in their duties.
Even today, I give a card and a bit of cash to the maintenance man in our building (one of them; the other refuses such things on religious grounds) and, when I used to get a paper delivered, to the paper boy. But I would never think of tipping the bus driver on my regular route or even the security guards who work on Parliament Hill (my colleague does give them cookies though so at least someone is thinking of them.) Of course, these days, people in service – thanks mostly to unions – actually make a decent salary and don’t require the ‘patronage’ of their so-called betters.
Boxing Day now has stopped being about others and become mostly about ourselves. In Canada it is still the biggest shopping day of the year as people flock to the malls or go on-line to give themselves the presents they didn’t get for Christmas. I’ve done it a few times myself but have found that it leads to an end of the Christmas Spirit like a dip in a frozen lake might put an end to your thoughts of fathering children. I try to avoid the shopping frenzy before Christmas – why would I indulge in it after? Besides, as I’ve opined elsewhere, I already have too much stuff.
But here’s something I learned a couple of years ago. While donations to charities and especially food banks spike at Christmas, they face an even more dramatic dip in revenues in January and February. Not only does money dry up but so do volunteers – perhaps too exhausted from all that shopping.
So this year, maybe you should set aside a little time and money to help out your local food bank or homeless shelter or maybe Syrian refugees and dole it out over the next couple of months. Hunger and loneliness, pain and fear are not seasonal commodities; they don’t go away when the decorations come down.
And that’s ten minutes.