A foreigner’s guide to Boxing Day

If you’re not British, or living in a British-inflected country, you’re asking, What?

Boxing Day is the day after Christmas.

So what does everyone do, go out and hit each other?

The people Wild Thing and I know mostly stay home and eat the Christmas leftovers. Especially those brussels sprouts. For breakfast, you can use them in bubble and squeak (which does neither, as far as I can figure out). It involves leftover sprouts (or cabbage, or anything else along those lines) and potatoes, bacon, onion, butter or some other sort of fat, and a frying pan. More or less. It’s one of those recipes that use up whatever you have on hand, so there’s no point in being precise about it.

Christmas cake. Photo by James Petts, on Wikimedia.

Christmas cake. Photo by James Petts, on Wikimedia.

After that, you can start on the Christmas cake.

It may be called Boxing Day because it was the day that Victorian ladies and gentlemen gave gift boxes to tradespeople and the servants (who had to work on Christmas day, and probably had to work on Boxing Day as well). Or it may have come from a medieval tradition involving alms boxes, which were opened on Boxing Day and the money given to the poor. Basically no one’s sure, but if you repeat the stories often enough they take on a certain authority.

What’s certain is that it’s a second legal holiday that involves brussels sprouts. Only in Britain.

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I’ll be posting once a week until—probably—mid-January, when I’ll go back to twice a week. Enjoy the holidays, whatever you celebrate and however you celebrate them. 

31 thoughts on “A foreigner’s guide to Boxing Day

  1. I always thought it was the day you ‘box’ up all the rubbish presents/gifts that you were given, ready to take then to the local charity shop on the 27th. Enjoy your Christmas and all the best for the New Year (can’t wait for your take on Hogmanay)

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  2. True story, Ellen… this holiday is a proper mystery! But most of us are pretty happy it is another day off work. Unless we happen to be Victorian-era servants. Which, thankfully, I am not. I would have been a rotten servant. Way too mouthy. Plus I like pretty things too much. And I hate dirt. Which was kind of a Victorian era thing…

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  3. Ah! Now I think ‘bubble and squeak’ from from The cooking process. It’s supposed to be the noise that the stuff makes as you heat it in a frying pan. The potato lifts of bubbles and the cabbage type leaves squeak as they get hot!

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  4. My friend from Bury St Edmunds said Boxing Day was a relaxed day when you cleaned up all the Christmas detritus and held an open house with leftovers and cookies out for visitors. At some point you pack it in and go visiting yourself.

    Based on your post I kept my eye on the sprouts at yesterday’s dinner. Yup! Pushed around on most plates and no took seconds. I did my best to refrain from giggling. And that was here in California.

    Also, I’ve stood next to my Bury friend while she made bubble n’ squeak. That’s what it does while cooking. So I guess you make the sprout dish, they go mostly uneaten, and you get them consumed by chopping them up and hiding them in the potatoes the next day. Very funny!!

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  5. I never had a single sprout left over for this–I love them and used to eat ALL of the leftover sprouts–even when they are on the children’s plates! Disgusting pig that I was–thin as a snake in those days, though. Bubble and squeak should be listed by the National Trust, along with spotted dick, of course! Your cake is gorgeous.

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    • Sad to say, that’s not a cake I made–it’s from WikiImages. I should’ve confessed up front.

      When my mother reached over to my plate and take what I hadn’t eaten, she always said, “Hate to see if go to waste.” So think of what you did as a public service.

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  6. In the Italo-australian version, Boxing Day is the day you invite back all the same relatives that you just hosted on Christmas day, with the idea that you eat the leftovers and rehash yesterday’s events. But these days, in addition, you buy in extra food, in fear that there won’t be enough leftovers to stay the course.

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  7. Another marginally related question – How did Wild Thing get her name? It makes me think of the song is the reason I’m asking. If it’s totally personal, please forgive me.

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    • If it was that personal, I wouldn’t use the name in the blog, believe me. I actually do call Wild Thing “Wild Thing” sometimes, and came about without much thought, because–well, it fits her. Yes, it came from the song, as well as from the book Where the Wild Things Are.

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  8. The name came about because it was when the crown opened up the alms boxes to give to the poor – certainly as far back as Elizabethan times. But many think it is because it was the day that the masters served the servants – left-overs were then taken to servants family homes on their afternoon off in boxes (doggy bags).

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