Boxing Day is the day after Christmas, December 26, when “servants and tradesmen traditionally would receive gifts from their superiors.” Today it’s a national holiday in most of the British Commonwealth and former British colonies. As far as why it’s called Boxing Day, there are several different theories:
A ‘Christmas Box’ in Britain is a name for a Christmas present.
Boxing Day was a day off for servants and when they received a ‘Christmas Box’ from the master. It’s an expression of appreciation and thanks, much like Christmas tips are today. The servants would also go home to give ‘Christmas Boxes’ to their families.
A box to collect money for the poor was placed in Churches on Christmas day then opened the next day.
Great sailing ships when setting sail would have a sealed box containing money on board for good luck. If the voyage were a success the box was given to a priest, opened at Christmas and the contents given to the poor.
The roots of the holiday goes back to the Middle Ages. On this day, members of the merchant class would take boxes, fill them with food and fruits, and give them to servants, tradespeople and the less fortunate. In the case of servants, they would work on Christmas Day, so it was only fitting that immediately after Christmas, they would be given a day off to celebrate.
Today, the giving of boxes includes filling boxes with food and clothing for the needy and performing volunteer work. Monetary gifts to charity are also common.
No holiday would be complete without a few mysteries that focus or start specifically on Boxing Day.
One is Nicholas Blake’s Thou Shell of Death (1936). Nicholas Blake is the pseudonym of Cecil Day Lewis, late British poet laureate.
Thou Shell of Death concerns Fergus O’Brien, a WWI flying ace. Fergus receives four letters predicting that he will be murdered on Boxing Day. Despite this, or maybe because of this, he plans a party and invites all the suspects (there are several people who might want to do him in) plus private detective Nigel Strangeways. O’Brien does die, and it’s up to Nigel Strangeways with the help of Inspector Blount of Scotland Yard to solve the crime. This is Blount’s first appearance in the series. Thou Shell of Death is an oldie but goodie, especially if you like houseparty mysteries.
There are three other novels that focus on Boxing Day. A frozen body is found on Boxing Day in Viveca Sten’s In Harm’s Way. Another mystery is Gilbert Adair’s The Act of Roger Murgatroyd that takes place entirely on Boxing Day. This is part of his series of novels about Evadne Mount, and is clearly a play on Agatha Christie novels. In Death at Sandringham House by C.C. Benison, Her Majesty the Queen, along with her housemaid Jane Bee, investigates a Boxing Day murder.
Happy Boxing Day!
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