Box social

Box social

Box social is a term with varying definitions in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

American usage

A box social in the United States is a form of fundraiser, wherein donated lunch boxes are auctioned off for a cause (often a civic, church, or school charity). Usually a woman creates a lunch, which is then auctioned off. Varying somewhat, the custom was for the person who had prepared or donated the box lunch to go on a date with the person who won the lunch with the highest bid, or at the event sit with that person and share the lunch.

In the U.S. state of Vermont the tradition is that women decorate a cardboard box, fill it with a lunch or dinner for two, and the men bid on the boxes anticipating a meal with the woman who brought the box. The event frequently takes place in a town hall, school gymnasium, or church hall. The bidding involves competition, and a fair bit of joking and teasing. The practice had fallen out of favor with young people in the 1970s–1990s, but has seen some resurgence in recent years. The rules today have become less rigid, men now provide boxes as well, but the goal remains the same: raising money for a school, church, or civic project.

Australian usage

The Australian meaning of the word is quite different. Box social started to be widely used during the Gold Rush period in Victoria. The large commercial mines that operated at the time were running 24 hours a day, in three shifts of eight hours (midnight to 8 a.m., 8 a.m. to 4.p.m and 4.p.m to midnight). As the workers on the 4 p.m. shift had their only break at 8 p.m., their wives or girlfriends would take their dinner to them at the mine in steel lunchboxes. On their way to the mines at night, it was not uncommon for the miners' women to have a social gathering together - to which they would bring their husband's lunchbox on the way to the mine.

Another way in which the word can be used is different again. A "Box Social" can be a small gathering or event that friends or associates go to in which they discuss local issues and usually drink wine. A box social is usually attended by those of the "elite" class.

British usage

In Victorian Britain, middle class young people had few acceptable ways to socialise and meet new people. A solution emerged of "box socials" held at various people's houses, organised by the parents, where youths could mix in a risk-free environment. Within the univeristy environment, a box social can be an annual social gathering for a sports club or society where people dress up as boxes. Popular boxes include oversized Weetabix boxes.

In popular culture

  • In the 1955 Rogers & Hammerstein musical Oklahoma!, characters Curly McLain and Jud Fry get in a bidding war at the box social over the lunch prepared by Laurey Williams.
  • In the "A Tisket, A Tasket" episode of the Gilmore Girls, Lorelai and Rory participate in the Stars Hollow box social.
  • During the "Mansion Family" episode of The Simpsons, Marge refuses to let Homer throw a box social while the Simpsons are house sitting for Mr. Burns.
  • During the "15 Minutes of Shame" episode of Family Guy, Stewie Griffin suggests that a girl at Meg's slumber party socializes with a boy at a box social.


  • Miller, Peter. Vermont People. Self-published: 1991. ISBN 0-9628064-0-4.
  • Strickland, Ron. Vermonters: Oral Histories from Down Country to the Northeast Kingdom. New England Press: 1986. ISBN-13: 978-0874518672
  • Van Susteren, Dirk, A Vermont Century: Photography and Essays from the Green Mountain State. Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus: 1999. ISBN 0-932754-99-6.

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