On the second day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
2 Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree
It is the Feast day of St Stephen, the day when Wrens could be hunted.. He is the first Christian Martyr and was stoned to death not long after Jesus’ apotheosis. It is the day people used to give presents (Boxes) particularly to servants and people who have helped out. Other days for presents include Dec 6th, St Nicholas’s Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Twelfth Night and any other day, Night, Eve (or Morn) you fancy.
In 1858 James Ewing Richie wrote about ‘Boxing Night’ in The Night Side of London. I’ve mixed it with another source to give a list of the people who came knocking at the door for the traditional Boxing Day Box.
Richie’s advice was to tie up your knocker as these people would come and knock on it:
The Sweep; Varlets playing French Horns pretending to be the Waits – The Waits were licensed musical beggars.
Then came the Turncock, the Postman, the Dustman; the Road Waterer in summer, and the Road Scrapper in Winter. After this the real Waits turned up for a musical turn. Then the Lamplighter, the Grocer’s Boy and the Butcher’s Boy.
I imagine the Knocker-upper also got a Box. My grandmother told me about the knocker-upper in Old Street in the early Twentieth Century.
Richie says he had to give 6 people, who wished him a Happy Christmas on his way to work, half a crown each. He thought his wife would be lucky to get away with a shilling per person for the list above. His belief was that it would all do more harm than good as it would be spent on drink leading to the miseries of drunkenness.