For many people, this can be a worrying time of year.
I believe I can help by answering the question that bothers them most: “Who am I supposed to tip at Christmas? And how much?”
Incidentally, the tradition of the “Christmas box” goes back to Victorian times, when tradesman used to call on customers who would then literally box their ears to encourage them to do even better next year. So you would give the paper boy a hearty cuff and say: “Take that, you scallywag. That’s for failing to deliver my copy of the lavishly illustrated souvenir pull-out supplement on the Repeal of the Corn Laws.” Then the poor boy would go, hot-eared, to the house next door to take his punishment for scrunching up the Horse & Carriage section of the Saturday paper in the letterbox.
Cuffing tradesmen has mostly died out now. Today, the Christmas box is more likely to be the cardboard container covered with colourful wrapping paper, marked “Wishing All Our Customers a Merry Xmas”. It has a slot carved in the lid and it is placed next to the cash-till in the dry cleaners, the vet’s surgery, the DIY shop and the Indian takeaway. This can lead to tricky situations, but you just have to decide how good a customer you have been over the past year and then help yourself to what you consider is the appropriate amount.
Here is my handy guide to seasonal tipping:
Dustmen. Now that most councils have farmed out refuse collection to private companies, the dustmen who come to call at this time of year probably just want to express their gratitude for getting the contract. You can expect them to pay each household about a fiver. Refusal to accept this can offend.
Carol singers. These days, they usually use their mobile phones to ring you up and give you one-and-a-half verses of Away in a Manger. If you have a star button on your telephone, press it twice, give your credit card details, and the appropriate sum will be deducted from your account.
The ISP 24-hour help desk. These people who talk you through your online crises certainly expect a token of your gratitude on Christmas Eve. You should go round and see them, shake hands and leave a present. The normal gift is a haunch of venison. Or a brace of pheasant, at a pinch.
Postmen. They appreciate the personal touch. Make them a Christmas card collage out of some of the mail-order catalogues you have received.
The bank manager. In the old days, you sent him a bottle of medium dry sherry. Now you have an interactive personal banking account supervisory team, consisting of Doug, Sue, Rick, Trish and Jojo, and they are expecting you to show up at lunchtime on 22nd December, take them to the pub and get absolutely smashed. If not, some time next year you’ll find a lot of your old bank statements dumped on your front path and your lawn.
Traffic wardens. Traditionally, the BMW owner (as the unofficial squire) living in any street is obliged to invite the local traffic wardens in for mulled wine, mince pies and carols round the tree. Owners of other vehicles, parked at a safe distance, may then arrive bearing gifts.
Television repair men. The tradition is that the first television repair man to cross the threshold between 18th December and 6th January receives a slice of cake and £75. This is known as the “call-out charge” and dates back to the 18th century, when officers of the watch used to patrol the streets at night calling out seasonal greetings.
If you want to give a more imaginative token, you can follow the custom of pagan times when, at the winter solstice, they gave presents of bunches of beech twigs and rushes smeared with clay and bound together with crude twine. These were supposed to have the power to ward off boils and foot rot. They are fun to make and will be appreciated by the delivery man or the hairdresser or the paper boy.
And certainly better than the boring old fiver in a Christmas card!