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Yo, Mattmeister:

What is Boxing Day?

-- Jeff Foxmore, La Jolla

The day we're allowed to punch out someone who's annoyed us most in the past year? Unfortunately, no. It's not even a U.S. celebration, though it shows up on our calendars. According to our staff Britwit, Boxing Day (December 26 in the England and most of her scattered territories) is an official holiday from work, unless you work in a retail store. If you do, you spend Boxing Day catering to the hordes of shoppers taking advantage of big Boxing Day blow-out sales. That involves a lot of boxes, but they're not what the holiday's about either. Well, not the original holiday.

Pour yourself some egg nog, relax, and go back, back, back to the early 1600s. You're a grimy, raggedy apprentice to an ironworker or a wagon maker. The best day of the year is the day after Christmas, when you are allowed to knock on the doors of all your customers and wheedle a tip out of them. The money goes into a clay pot, called a Christmas box. Back at the shop, the box is broken and the money divided among the workers.

Naturally, a holiday based on officially sanctioned begging was bound to live on forever, so Boxing Day was well entrenched by the mid-1800s. Everybody and anybody who might have simply passed you on the street once or twice during the year came knocking on your door to hit you up for a Christmas box, as the tips were known. After the Victorian era, the begging aspect of Boxing Day faded, and everyone was left with a much less profitable day off from work.

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