Boxing Day: A Festive Experiment in Gratitude

I realise that the proverbial partying, frenzied gift buying or making and stocking up on traditional food items to mark the occasion is still going on in anticipation of Christmas day.  But in the last post before Christmas I wanted to take a moment to mention the following day, Boxing Day: because it offers a unique opportunity to anyone interested in the dynamics of service.

Boxing day is traditionally the day when householders give small gifts or money called a christmas box to people who provide a service to them during the year.  In days of old that might have been housemaids, stable boys and coachmen.  Nowadays it is more likely to be given to the people who provide a service to us during the year but often are not paid by us directly, including the lads and lasses who empty our bins, deliver our mail and bring the Sunday papers.  And it is generally given before Christmas since not many of these services operate on Boxing Day itself.

A Christmas box  is a small gift that recognises and acknowledges the service  these people provide throughout the year and is often given to people we rarely see but whose labour is a valued service and whom we fund through our local or central taxes.  

If it isn’t something you normally do, perhaps because you so rarely see these people, I wonder if you might give it a try this year?

Here’s why.  And let’s take the bin-men as an example.

1.  It communicates appreciation  

The bin-men may be paid by the taxes collected from us for all the services needed to keep our environment safe and clean, but the relationship between us is somewhat remote.  Despite benefiting from the services they provide, we are not their direct employers and I would hazard a guess that we don’t all rush out to give feedback on the quality of the job and a personal thank you each time we put out our bins.   

So no matter how valued they are by their managers (ahem), the real feedback on the value of their service and the effort they put into it is how pleased we, the end users, are with it.  But for many of us, it doesn’t feel so easy to start rushing out and gushing with thanks to these people we so rarely see.   Having a ritualised opportunity like Boxing day to give something on top of the taxes we pay and to say a brief thank you is a much easier option.  Fortunately even this very brief exchange is able to communicate a very clear thank you.  It says “Your work for me is valued and appreciated and so, therefore, are you.”

2.  It humanises everyone in the service relationship

For the reasons described above, the remote nature of the relationship with our government service providers leads to a distance between us that often defines the way we think about the other.   For bin-men, the thousands of bins they empty every day and the rare interaction with any of the bin owners are likely to encourage them to think of their customers in terms of  numbers rather than unique individuals.  And possibly not even in terms of them being customers.  We don’t pay them, we barely speak to them and we often don’t see them, since they collect from the road often very early in the morning or when we are at work.  

Taking the opportunity to hand a gift to someone else creates an opportunity to connect.     We both stop our normal activity and speak..  It allows eye contact and a positive interaction between two people who otherwise might never say a word to each other.  The 246th household on the Wednesday round takes on the form of a human being and the marching high visibility overalls occasionally glimpsed in the road also materialise into  real people.  The real people look at each other, speak to each other, smile and exchange thanks. We each appreciate the effort made by the other.   For a brief moment we become individuals in a happy personal exchange of genuine humanity.

Yes, there are many others behind the scenes who are also providing a service to us and being paid by the taxes we pay – managers, accountants, office cleaners, etc, but the human touchpoint for us is with the person who actually empties our bins.  So this is the perfect opportunity to make a deeper connection.

3.  It lets us express our gratitude. 

Creating opportunities for gratitude in our lives makes us happy!.  Positive psychologists have been studying the effect of gratitude and have come to the conclusion that it is can significantly increase our sense of well-being.  Boxing day is a prompt for us to reflect on things that we often take for granted or even largely ignore.  I would be willing to bet that it is a rare householder indeed who feels daily gratitude for the services provided by the bin-men.  You bet we notice it when it isn’t done, but when it is, we bring the bins back in and carry on without a second thought.  Boxing day is a gift to us: it allows us to feel and express gratitude for something we may otherwise never find time to do and so gives us a chance to do something positive for ourselves.   

4.  An after-thought: could it lead to even better service? 

Would a Christmas box for the bin-men mean that next year the service they provide to their grateful customers be even better?  Might it mean more of a sense of purpose in the job? Might they take extra time to pick up those items that have fallen out onto the drive?  Might they wave hallo when they see me coming out of the house?  Who knows – but what is there to lose?

 But back to the main reasons for that little pre-Christmas gesture.  Giving a Christmas box to those people whom we hardly notice is a rare chance to say thank you, I appreciate and value your work.  It humanises us all in the service relationship.  It strengthens the relationships between us, and it is a unique opportunity to make everyone involved feel just a bit more cheerful. 

 In that spirit I shall say thank you for reading this blog during 2011 and may I warmly wish you all a very happy festive season.  See you in 2012:-)

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4 Comments to “Boxing Day: A Festive Experiment in Gratitude”

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