ENID, Okla. — Editor’s note: This column was first published Dec. 26, 2003.
Today is a holiday.
No, we didn’t mess up and run this piece on the wrong day.
In Australia, Britain, New Zealand and Canada, this is Boxing Day.
No, this is not the day to wear those new boxer shorts you received for Christmas, and it has nothing to do with picking up all those empty gift boxes strewn around on the living room floor.
This is not a day to celebrate prize fighting, or boxer dogs.
The holiday’s origins can be traced back to Britain, but there’s some disagreement about exactly how it began.
Centuries ago, members of the merchant class would present boxes of food and fruit to tradesmen and servants on the day after Christmas, in appreciation for their service during the previous year. That’s kind of like the way we tip our hair dresser, mailman or newspaper columnist around Christmas every year. I’m still waiting.
Boxing Day also could be a product of the old feudal system. Christmas celebrations in those days involved everyone who worked or lived on large estate gathering in one place. The day after Christmas, when all the partying was over and the serfs were getting ready to leave, the lord of the manor would hand out the supplies each family would need for the coming year. Based on the size of their family and the family’s importance in the serf pecking order, they would receive cloth, leather goods, non-perishable food, tools and anything else they would need. These items were placed in a box, for easy carrying. This made the serfs very happy, thus originating the phrase, “serfs up.”
Don’t like that explanation? OK, here’s another. Years ago, on the day after Christmas, servants in Britain carried boxes to their masters when they arrived for their day’s work. The tradition was that the employers would put coins in the boxes as a special gift. A slightly different explanation of this tradition holds that apprentices and servants would get to smash open clay boxes left for them by their masters on Dec. 26. The boxes would contain small sums of money.
Regardless of where it started, Boxing Day is about giving to those less fortunate than you.
Boxing Day, by the way, also is known as St. Stephen’s Day. Remember the popular old Christmas song, “Good King Wenceslas?” Remember the opening line, “Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the feast of Stephen.” That refers to St. Stephen’s Day.
Families spend Boxing Day kind of winding down from the excitement of Christmas. They eat leftovers and play games. Boxing Day is generally the day the cooks in the family take the day off, so the meal often is a buffet of cold meats and salads. That gives the ladies the chance to enjoy their family, rather than slaving in the kitchen.
Boxing Day also is a good day to appease the family members with whom you didn’t get to spend Christmas. You can spend one day with the in-laws and the other with the outlaws.
St. Stephen also is the patron saint of horses, so horse racing and fox hunting are sports associated with Boxing Day. Who is the patron saint of football, anyway?
In this country, the day after Christmas is dedicated not to a saint, but to the spirit of free enterprise. It is Return Day, when we take the electric pink and fuchsia socks we get from Aunt Eunice and try to trade them in on a Beyonce CD, or vice-versa.
It also is After-Christmas Sales Day, when we rush to the store with our Christmas money clutched in our hot little hands.
Perhaps Boxing Day is a good idea. Maybe Congress should look into declaring it an official holiday. That would give us another day to wind down after the hustle and bustle of Christmas.
It also might help us continue the spirit of giving that seems to predominate during the weeks leading up to Dec. 25. We spend December taking angels off trees to buy gifts for needy children, fishing change from our pockets for the Salvation Army kettle and collecting food and gifts at work for needy families. But after Christmas, boom, all we’re thinking about is trying to shed holiday pounds.
The need is growing. A report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found requests for emergency food assistance rose 17 percent overall from last year in the survey of 25 large cities. Requests for emergency shelter rose 13 percent.
We need Boxing Day. We need another day off after the pre-Christmas stress, another day to visit with family and to eat leftovers. We also need a reminder that our generosity is needed, even after Christmas.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.