Our Boxing Day was a happy one spent, like many others, at home with the family. We played board games, transformed the Christmas dinner leftovers into a feast and ate a disgusting amount of chocolate. But the inevitable question did arise; “why is it called Boxing Day?”. I hesitated and muttered that it was something to do with boxes, before heading to the bookshelf to see if I could find the answer.
It seems that it is to do with boxes – hooray! – but not the boxes normally associated with Christmas cheer (you know, the ones containing PlayStations and such like). No, these were boxes containing money that would have been given to apprentices and servants; essentially a Christmas bonus from their employers for all their hard work that year. Employees were also given the day off to spend with their families, and if they were extra lucky, they were gifted some festive food to take with them too. This is a custom that dates back to 1600 and continued into the Victorian era, I suppose up to the point where we stopped having low-paid servants and when bank holidays were introduced.
Boxing Day is now an official bank holiday which, in theory, means that workers should still have the day off to spend with their families, though in reality many people have go to work as usual. New traditions seem to have taken over in wake of the quiet time once offered by Boxing Day. Now families go to football matches, head into town for the Boxing Day sales frenzy or head out on a much-needed long walk to burn off the excesses of Christmas Day.
Whilst I would love to receive a box of money from my boss on Boxing Day (hint hint), I’m more than happy to use the day to work my way through a box of chocolates. Or two.
A dreary Tuesday morning was somewhat cheered by hearing a conversation on BBC Radio 2 about our lovely hometown, Southwell, and the Bramley apple celebrations that are taking place over the weekend.
Southwell in Nottinghamshire is well-known for many things: we have a beautiful Minster, an all-weather racecourse (which once flooded, I believe, but hey ho!) and a pub where King Charles I stayed shortly before he got the chop. Chris Evans – host of the Radio 2 breakfast show – mentioned these, but mainly focussed on the town’s famous cooking apple and the festival that will take place this weekend. He seemed a bit bemused by the sheer amount of activities going on during the Bramley Apple Festival, but the Bramley really is at the heart of our little town. A local pub, our local newspaper and even a local nursery school pays homage to the Bramley name. There are even coach tours that arrive from as far away as Japan bringing tourists to see the home of this unassuming little fruit!
The Bramley was first grown in a garden on Church Street near to Southwell Minster. A blue plaque commemorates this, and if you pop your head (politely) over the wall you can glimpse the original apple tree which is over 200 years old! The tree itself made headlines earlier this year as there are fears it is dying due to some kind of tree fungus, poor thing.
The Bramley apple is so important to Southwell that an annual festival is held every October following World Apple Day. A food festival is held in Southwell Minster, local shops and businesses adorn their windows with Bramley related scenes and the local primary school, Lowes Wong Infant School, crowns an apple king and queen following an apple-themed fancy dress parade. Not being the most arty mother, neither of my children have ever been crowned, but they do enjoy taking part and it’s always fun to watch the parade. My personal favourite costumes of recent years were the (Bramley) Apple i-Pod and the Statue of Liberty from the Big (Bramley) Apple.
Oscar dressed as a Bramley King
We’ll be out in town on Saturday morning celebrating the apple and the arrival of Autumn. We’ll sample the local produce, watch the Morris Dancers and judge which shop window display is this year’s best. That afternoon we may even bake some Bramley apple crumble using the apples from our own Bramley trees (direct descendants of the original, so I am told). Having lived in Southwell for ten years, this a tradition that I now really enjoy and my own little born-and-bred Southwellians are certainly proud of their illustrious local apple.
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Celebrating the new year and marking the end of the old year is nothing new, and though there are many traditions such as singing Auld Lang Syne (badly) at midnight that you’ll be familiar with, there are others that you may not have heard of.
Traditions and customs take place before and after midnight on NYE
For centuries, the tradition of ‘first footing’ has taken place across the UK. Essentially this revolves around making sure that the first person to enter your house after midnight brings good luck for the coming year; so don’t go letting any undesirables like Donald Trump in before your lovely nan. In some places, there are strict rules about the ‘first footer’. They may be required to have dark hair, or dark skin, or to be married. Some ‘first footers’ had to carry out tasks such as poking the fire, or even had to bring gifts like a loaf of bread. It can all get very complicated! I’d say you’re in for a good year if Johnny Depp turns up on your doorstep at midnight carrying a cut-loaf from the Co-Op…
I like the tradition of sweeping out the old year to welcome in the new year. People around Britain have done this for centuries, with people even buying a new broom to literally sweep out the dust and dirt of the dying year. It was also seen as important to sweep out the fire and thoroughly clean the whole house. Juniper would be burnt around the house, before the doors and windows were flung open to allow in the freshness of the new year air.
Hogmanay celebrations in Edinburgh
And what of the Hogmanay celebrations that take place in Scotland each year? It may sound like something out of Harry Potter, but Hogmanay can be linked to Pagan traditions around fire and light during the dark winter months. It was a kind of mega winter festival where people lit bonfires, sang, danced and exchanged presents, to stop them feeling so miserable and cold in the days before central heating. Nowadays, Hogmanay has become a huge party in Scotland’s cities. Fireworks and bagpipes welcome in the new year in style! And across Britain, people hug and kiss family, friends and strangers (you need to watch that!) at midnight.
You’ll notice that at this time of year, lots of grown ups – and some children – make resolutions for the new year. Often these involve eating healthily, spending more time with family or going to the gym (most of which go out of the window by 8th January!). What will your resolutions be for 2016?
Bank holidays. Yay! The perfect excuse for a day out or, as me and my small folk prefer, a day lazing in front of the telly. Indeed, yesterday – August Bank Holiday – was typically dull and rainy, so we stayed in and watched Disney movies all day. Parents secretly enjoy days like this, even if they say they don’t…
In Britain, we have 8 bank holidays each year including Christmas Day and Boxing Day. We sometimes even sneak in an extra one when a Royal decides to get married (hurry up Harry, we want a day off!).
But why do we have them? Bank holidays were traditionally the days that the banks were shut so that their staff could go off for a jolly to the beach or to their mum’s for lunch. Bank holidays started way back in 1871 when workers were given 4 days off a year. In the 1970s, the trade unions stamped their feet a lot to get better rights for workers, and hey presto! 4 more bank holidays were added to the British calendar. Hooray!
These days, many shops, restaurants and places of interest open on Bank Holidays, though the banks and schools remain closed. If you are unlucky enough to have to work on a Bank Holiday, you may get paid a bit extra that day, which makes up for the fact that you’re missing a re-run of The Sound of Music on the telly.
Singing in the Bank Holiday Rain
5 British Bank Holiday Activities:
- A trip to the seaside in the rain
- A long country walk in the rain
- Waiting in a queue of traffic on the M1
- Unsuccessfully hunting for a bargain in the end-of-season sales
- Moaning about the rain
(Please note: these activities may not apply to all British families; many thoroughly enjoy the day and make good use of their time together)