Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Boxing Day

Yes, a few days late. I actually forgot I'd written something about this holiday...
(News-Herald, December 2002) Today, Thursday, December 26, is Boxing Day. Well, at least in some parts of the world it is.
Nobody knows exactly when Boxing Day began, and historians offer a variety of theories about why it developed.
Some say that because servants were required to work on Christmas Day, they would have the following day as their holiday. As they headed out to celebrate the holiday, their employers would give them gift boxes.
Another tradition says that it was the day on which churches opened their poor boxes and distributed the contents to the poor.
Both of these ideas fit reasonably well, as December 26 is also the Feast of St. Stephen. St. Stephen, for those of you who are not up on your saints, was the first Christian martyr, one of the original deacons of the church, ordained by the apostles to care for widows and orphans.
There is, in fact, a Boxing Day carol. Remember—“Good King Wencelsas looked out on the Feast of Stephen.” If you have ever actually sung more than the first verse of the carol, you might recall that the song tells the story of the good king rendering assistance to the poor.
Boxing Day is celebrated in Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Canada. The tradition includes a variety of raucous sporting events and has broadened from helping the poor to giving a gift to any of those who have rendered a service in the past year—tradesmen, doormen, mail carriers, porters and others.
It’s not hard to see why the holiday never really caught on in the states. It is very much a class-driven holiday; the whole purpose is to set aside one day on which the upper crust folks deign to share a little something with the underlings of the world. It’s not at all in keeping with the idea of America as a classless society.
Still, I can see some advantages to an American version of Boxing Day.
First of all, any holiday that can be commemorated with a sporting event deserves our attention. Granted, some of the celebratory events, such as cold-water swimming, have a certain lunatic quality about them. But we already play more football games on New Years Day than we know what to do with. Another easily memorable holiday on which to schedule a pigskin romp or two certainly couldn’t hurt.
More than that, though, I support the idea of a holiday that requires us to personally honor the people who do all the grunt work. Labor Day ought to fill the bill, but most of us just enjoy the three day weekend without pausing to consider what the day off is about.
Besides, Labor Day is abstract. Boxing Day American style could be much more direct. There are many people on whom we depend for the daily maintenance of life. The city water doesn’t magically appear in the sink, the mail isn’t delivered by enchanted gnomes, and garbage doesn’t fly off the curb by itself (well, unless it’s left there a really long time). Our roads aren’t self-clearing, electricity doesn’t feed itself into self-repairing cables, and groceries do not grow on the shelves of stores.
All of these things are taken care of for us by real live human beings. We are able to go about our business, take care of the daily stuff of our lives because other people keep the wheels moving for us.
It wouldn’t hurt us a bit to say thank you, not in a vague, abstract way, but as a real gesture to an actual person. Do it not as a sign that you are so much better than they are, but because you appreciate what they do for you.
Sure it’s their job, but they could always do something else. And if nobody was willing to take on the job of hauling away your garbage, you’d be in a terrible mess.
If you can thank Aunt Grizelda for the matching puce and eggplant colored pot holders, you can certainly thank the guy who spent his day today slogging through the slush so that you could get the late Christmas cards from your cousin Beulah in Lake Tahoe.
So we’ll make this year the year we start the American version of Boxing Day. Start slow. Pick someone to thank today. Write him a nice note, or give her the extra fruitcake that’s sitting in your kitchen. Thank someone whose hard work makes your life a little easier. Happy Boxing Day.

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