Since we won the Revolution, we are no longer obliged to celebrate Boxing Day. Christmas is over, period. Seems a pity, but I suppose since very few of us have a household staff anymore, Boxing Day is irrelevant to most of us on this side of the pond. Except Canadians, of course. Loyal members of the Commonwealth, our cousins to the north still observe Boxing Day by drinking beer, eating poutine, and watching hockey which makes Canadian Boxing Day pretty much indistinguishable from any other day of the Canadian year, eh!
(Now don’t get me wrong: I like Canadians, so much so, in fact, that if certain things don’t go my way next November, I just might head up north myself. I just wish it weren’t so cold up there. Why couldn’t Canada be a Caribbean island? Oh, wait; I know why: there are no hockey rinks in the Caribbean. Sigh.)
Anyway, Boxing Day has nothing to do with fisticuffs, or recycling all those Amazon boxes your Christmas presents arrived in. The Oxford English Dictionary traces its earliest print attribution to 1833, four years before Charles Dickens extolled Boxing day in “The Pickwick Papers.” Although the exact roots of the holiday’s name are unknown, there are two theories, both of which are connected to charity traditionally extended to working class folk on the day after Christmas.
One school of thought holds that December 26—that’s today, by the way—was the day when the “upstairs” population of the manor presented their “downstairs” folk with Christmas boxes filled with small gifts, money, and leftovers from the upstairs holiday feast, which, of course, had been prepared and served by the downstairs staff. The boxes were, in essence, a Christmas bonus for loyal and dedicated servants who were even given a few hours off to enjoy their bounty in front of a two-lumps-of-coal fire.
The second theory is that the Boxing Day moniker derives from the alms boxes placed in churches during the Advent season. The money collected in these boxes would then be distributed to the poor on the day after Christmas which also happens to be the Feast of Saint Stephen, one of the early Christian martyrs and a figure revered for his many acts of pious charity.
Whatever the derivation of the name, Boxing Day lives on in England and other Commonwealth countries. The Mongoose, my dear American pal who keeps a home in London, thinks that’s a good thing. He doesn’t have servants or household staff over there, but nevertheless, he does celebrate Boxing day because he is a kind man who believes in sharing his own good fortune. There’s a lot to be said for such an empathetic concept, especially in the dregs of winter.
I did a little research on traditional Boxing Day fare. It seems that there’s often a lot of leftover turkey fricassee, coleslaw made from Brussel sprouts, ham and cheese croissants, rosemary shortbread, apple crumble, and a gluten-free pavlova meringue log, whatever that is. If it were left to me, fish and chips would do nicely, but I guess that wouldn’t travel very well in a box. That’s a job for yesterday’s tabloid.
So, whether you celebrate Boxing Day or not, I hope you had a Merry Christmas or a Happy Hanukkah or a Blessed Kwanzaa, or whatever is the proper expression pertaining to any other fine winter holiday you chose to observe. Just please remember to share your own good fortune.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine.
His new novel “This Salted Soil,” a new children’s book, “The Ballad of Poochie McVay,” and two collections of essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”), are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is Musingjamie.net.