Boxing Day Bonanza

To celebrate festive traditions, here is an excerpt from The Book of Christmas descriptive of the Customs, Ceremonies, Traditions, Superstitions, Fun, Feeling, and Festivities of the Christmas Season (1836) by Victorian poet and critic Thomas Kibble Hervey (1799 – 1859).

“Boxing-day is still a great day in London. Upon this anniversary, every street resounds with the clang of hall-door knockers. Rap follows rap, in rapid succession, the harsh and discordant tones of iron mingling with those of rich and sonorous brass, and giving a degenerate imitation of the brazen clangor of the trumpet, which formed the summons to the gate in days of old, and which, together with the martial music of the drum, appears to have been adopted, at a later period, by the Christmas-boxers, on St. Stephen’s Day. Pepys, in his Diary (1668), records his having been “called up by drums and trumpets; these things and boxes,” he adds, “have cost me much money this Christmas, and will do more.” Which passage seems to have been in the memory of our facetious publisher, when he made the following entry in his journal of last year, from whence we have taken the liberty of transcribing it. “Called out,” says Spooner (1834), “by the parish beadle, dustmen, and charity-boys. The postman, street-sweepers, chimney-sweepers, lamp-lighters, and waits will all be sure to wait upon me. These fellows have cost me much money this Christmas, and will do more, the next.” There is an amusing account, given by a writer of the querulous class, of a boxing-day in London, a century ago. “By the time I was up,” says he, “my servants could do nothing but run to the door.

Inquiring the meaning, I was answered, the people were come for their Christmas-box: this was logic to me; but I found at last that, because I had laid out a great deal of ready-money with my brewer, baker, and other tradesmen, they kindly thought it my duty to present their servants with some money, for the favor of having their goods. This provoked me a little, but being told it was the ‘custom,’ I complied. These were followed by the watch, beadles, dustmen, and an innumerable tribe; but what vexed me the most was the clerk, who has an extraordinary place, and makes as good an appearance as most tradesmen in the parish; to see him come a-boxing, alias, a-begging, I thought was intolerable; however I found it was ‘the custom,’ too; so I gave him half-a-crown, as I was likewise obliged to do to the bellman, for breaking my rest for many nights together.”

Feature Image: Print entitled ‘Boxing Day’, book illustration in “Pierce Egan’s Life in London” (1821) by George Cruikshank (1792 – 1878), a British caricaturist and book illustrator, named the “modern Hogarth” of 19th century London, famous for illustrations of Dickens’s books.