Happy Boxing Day, everyone! This is Kate Loveton from Odyssey of a Novice Writer filling in for the lovely Heather B. Costa, who is still celebrating Christmas.
Heather, good pal that she is, asked if I might consider guest blogging on her site today. Being a shy, retiring personality who always tries to avoid the spotlight, I answered: “YOU BETCHA!” (That’s Sarah Palin-speak for “Sure, I’d love to!”)
When I asked her why she wanted to temporarily hand over the keys to the kingdom to yours truly, she replied, “Because Friday is Boxing Day and I’ll be too busy celebrating to update my weekly ‘Friday Thoughts’ feature.”
Boxing Day? Okay, as a Yank, I just gotta ask: what the heck is Boxing Day?
I’d be lying to you if I didn’t admit that when Heather uttered those words, I immediately imagined Muhammad Ali duking it out with a foe in Madison Square Garden. It got me to wondering about Heather’s family… were their celebrations more rambunctious than I’d originally assumed?
In spite of her tales of rods and balls and female plastic dolls afflicted with nymphomania, I never figured Heather as a devotee of pugilistic pursuits. When I asked her about this, she assured me she hadn’t developed a sudden interest in watching sweaty men in satin shorts settling matters with their fists.
So what gives? In the United States, we don’t celebrate Boxing Day. The day after Christmas, if it falls on a weekday, is one in which we reluctantly return to work (hung over and brimming with less than good cheer). But in Britain, December 26th is a national holiday. The idea of an extra day off makes me jealous. I tried to tell Tom Jefferson that fighting that war against King George III would bite us in the butt one day. But did he listen? Nah! And this is why I have to go to work on December 26th and Heather gets to celebrate.
Aside from the good sense of the British people to grant themselves an extra day for celebration after Christmas, just what is the purpose of Boxing Day? Is it similar to the day after Christmas in America? That’s the day when all self-respecting Americans assemble at the crack of dawn to break down the doors of Macy’s and other well-known department stores in a quest to unload (um… exchange) Christmas gifts that no one in their right mind would want. We gather up the boxes from Aunt Mary and Uncle James, not to mention those from friends who should know better, and head for the exchange counters. Forgive me if this sounds crass. After all, it’s the thought that counts… not the actual gift. Right?
Well, maybe if you’re a character out of a Hallmark Movie! The rest of us know better. Seriously, how many pairs of mittens does one woman need? How many sweatshirts with sequined red-nosed reindeers? And – Lord have mercy! – how many cute headbands with antlers that flash bright red and green? (Guess I’ve just given away that my family is Red Neck Proud – you ought to see our trailer! It features a bare-assed Santa trying to shimmy down a fake chimney. What we lack in class, we make up for in creativity.)
Anyway, during our last Skype session, I asked my very proper British friend if Boxing Day was possibly just a ‘dump the junk’ holiday. Heather frowned and shook her head.
In spite of my pleas, she refused to enlighten me, telling me to “do your homework and figure it out yourself!” There are times when Heather reminds me of my 5th grade teacher, Elsie Gudenhoeffer. “If you don’t know something, Katie, look it up! That’s what the Good Lord gave you a brain for.” I never did like Elsie Gudenhoeffer.
But I do like Heather, and so I got down on bended knee and called upon the God of All Earthly Knowledge.
He (it?) did not let me down.
What I learned is that Boxing Day is a holiday that in one form or another has been observed since the Middle Ages. I also learned that December 26th was the day that the Feast of Saint Stephen was observed by the pious. Remember the old carol about Good King Wenceslas? According to the carol, Wenceslas went out into the harsh winter weather to give alms to a poor peasant during the feast of Saint Stephen. I guess that’s what made him ‘good.’ Unlike me, he didn’t sit around after a huge feast, have a beer and watch some football (that’s soccer to you Brits). Nope, he went out in a blizzard to give aid and comfort to the poor. And now he has a dandy carol in his honor. Well done on him, I say!
If you’re wondering who Saint Stephen was, he was one of the early Christian martyrs. Charged by the early Church fathers with caring for widows and orphans, Stephen was stoned to death for his devotion to Christ.
One theory concerning the origins of Boxing Day has it that churches used to annually collect boxes of clothing and coin for the poor, and that the boxes were not to be distributed until the Feast of Saint Stephen.
As time passed, the custom changed, giving way to rewards of cash rendered to servants by their employers for good service throughout the year. I read that those of equal class exchanged presents on Christmas Day; but the lower classes received their presents from their employers the day after Christmas.
Interesting, huh? But here’s something else. After some time had passed, the holiday morphed from one of giving care to the poor into something called a Bank Holiday, meaning banks and most offices are officially closed.
And what do the Brits do on this holiday? Well, Heather would have me believe they drink tea, eat toast covered with marmite and celebrate the holiday with friends and family. Sounds pretty darned genteel, doesn’t it?
What Heather doesn’t know is that I found a photo that illustrates that the crafty Brits aren’t so different from their crazed American cousins on the day after Christmas.
Aw… this London photo almost looks like home. If I didn’t’ know better, I might think this was the Super Wal-Mart about five miles up the road from our trailer park! See, folks aren’t really all that different no matter where they live. The only difference between Brits and Americans is that Brits speak a lot prettier. Okay, yes, they are better dressed – and they are much more polite. But when it comes to duking it out in the department stores, I’d say our proper cousins from across the pond can give as good as they get!
Take that, Muhammad Ali!