A few quirky facts...
Why is the 26th of December called Boxing day? In the time of James I of England, writers start to note down the habit of an employer dropping money at Christmas into an clay box kept by their apprentice. He would break it when full, and enjoy the treat.
The first mention is in 1621, and by the reign of Charles II, this was extended to servants in general. By the 1660s cash gifts instead were being given to tradesmen whose services a customer had enjoyed during the year. But the old name of "boxes" for the cash gifts remained. Samuel Pepys diary entry of 19 December 1663 notes dropping money off at five or six places on Christmas day.
But tradesmen could be greedy. In 1710, Jonathan Swift wrote: "By the Lord Harry, I shall be undone here with Christmas boxes. The rogues of the coffee-house have raised their tax, every one giving a crown, and I gave mine for shame, besides a great many half-crowns to great men's porters, etc" and in 1756 Sir John Fielding noted that the total cost to richer nobility was up to £30 (around £3,480 in today's money) which he declared "a very scandalous imposition".
In 1871, the Bank Holiday's Act declared the 26th December to be a day of leisure, reviving the ancient Christian feast day of St Stephen, but officially as the secular holiday of "Boxing Day". Gifts are no longer given on Boxing day, but people often give gratuities around Christmas to those who serve them during the year, such as dustmen, and boxes are found on counters of shops for Christmas tips.
André Maurois knew the problem - Maurois was a quotable French author of the early 20th century. One quote of his that came very much to mind on a couple of occassions last week is (in...
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