Box socials were the way to go
efore winter highways were plowed for year-round driving and the internet made it possible for singles to meet prospective mates through on-line websites, box socials played a prominent part in the winter social scene of prairie communities while raising modest funds for community projects.
Intended as an informal get-together for all ages, the box- or pie-social offered a safe, friendly, inexpensive means of introducing shy bachelors to the community’s eligible womenfolk. Whereas Hollywood’s Millionaire Matchmaker gives each man ten minutes to meet each of several woman and choose one for a longer masterdate, the box social was a four -hour mixer closely chaperoned throughout by relatives and friends of all ages who judged the manners and sociability of the young men in particular.
Each woman or teenaged girl packed a shoebox or similar sized cardboard container with a selection of sandwiches, cake or pie, and even fruit sufficient to feed two people. The box was wrapped either with plain brown butcher paper or in the case of more affluent bakers, flashy gift wrap, snugly trussed with a distinctive ribbon or decoration to set it apart when bidding began.
These box lunches were displayed at the event while everyone danced to tunes played by a pick-up orchestra oftentimes comprised of a fiddler, piano player, guitar strummer, and accordionist. These events occurred in a community hall, a church basement, or a country school. Desks were pushed to the outer limits of the room where Grandmas babysat and visited while sprightlier folk waltzed or polkaed until lunchtime.
At lunchtime either a career auctioneer or someone willing to take on the role auctioned the boxes to men eager to share the company of the lady they believed had packed the box they were bidding on. Final bids could range from a low of ten cents to a premium price close to two dollars. In the light of today’s costs those prices might seem like giving away food for nothing. But by comparison to today’s prices, in the 1940’s a chocolate bar, an ice cream cone, even a 6.5 ounce bottle of Coca Cola cost a nickel. During the Depression, for some families even a nickel was hard to come by.
Nothing led to more joshing throughout the remainder of the evening than a swain disappointed to find himself sharing lunch with a nine-year-old or her grandmother when he gambled he had been bidding for a lunch with his intended. For either party in the transaction – the lady who packed the lunch and the man who bought it – to voice or model disappointment in such instances would have been uncouth.
Young women might clue in their steady boyfriends as to which box was theirs, still occasionally a mischievous older man bent on giving a swain a hard time would deliberately bid against him, raising the price as high as he dared without being stuck buying the lunch himself. Such over bidding resulted in moneymakers for the evenings’ take.
As a means of introducing prospective partners, the box social was way ahead of online dating sites. Couples got to spend quality time getting to know each other. They paid no membership fee. And security was assured. Even the newly-hired farmhand was vetted by neighbours as well as his employer.
Unlike online dating where people can post photos of someone other than themselves, and claim qualifications they may not possess, what you saw was what you got. Sure, in a rare case a female insecure about her baking abilities might pass off a wedge of her aunt’s prize-winning lemon meringue pie as having been created by her own capable hands.
Website dating fails to present a complete, accurate picture before two people meet.