Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Boxing Day is cool for many reasons

Boxing Day Down Under marks the start of the annual Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race.
Today is Boxing Day, and once again my family and friends (those here in the states) will look at me with that funny grin and say: "So, what is Boxing Day anyway?" Should I wish Muhammad Ali a Merry Christmas, or maybe send Mike Tyson a "box" of chocolates? I heard it has something to do with the queen. Doe she "box" Charles' ears on Dec. 26?

Such are the comments I've heard over the years and though a bit off, even most Canadians cannot always give a serious answer to the comical queries regarding the origins of Boxing Day?

I bet if I were to do a random survey at any "Timmy's" (TIm Hortons) today -- most Canadians surveyed would say: "I don't know? We've had the day off since forever. It is as a national holiday. Or, better yet, here in Canada and Britain (Oh, and the Aussies too) we are greedy, it's not enough for us to have Christmas Day celebrations we have added another civic day to spend with family and friends, eh?"

However, ask any one of our grandparents and they would tell you its origins are steeped in history and tradition. 

A "Christmas Box" in Britain is a name for a Christmas present. The day after Christmas is also the day when churches in England and Canada empty their collection boxes for the poor and needy.

An article from The New York Times dated in December of 1936 states the holiday could be traced back to a Roman custom of giving and receiving gifts during Saturnalia, the season dedicated to exchanging presents.

In the "Book of Days," it is stated the fathers of the church denounced, on the grounds of its pagan origin, the observance of such a usage by the Christians. But their anathemas had little practical effect, and with the passage of time, the custom of giving Christmas boxes and New Year's gifts attained universal recognition.

This was also a time when tradesmen and journeymen were in the habit of levying contributions upon the customers of their masters. The tradespeople in turn would add to bills they had already rendered, thus completing the cycle of compensation.

I was told by my father that it was on this day that the queen honored the hard work and loyalty of her servants by presenting them with boxes of goodies (in the old days it was leftovers) and gratuities, along with the day off. I believe this remains a royal tradition. As for modern Brits, Boxing Day is an opportunity to show off their true eccentricity by taking part in silly activities such as swimming the English Channel or participating in a fun run for charity. For the Aussies there is the annual Boxing Day cricket match hosted by their national team and the Sydney to Hobart Yach Race. In the early days of the annual sailboat race a priest would place a small container or Christmas box on the ship. If the crewmen wanted a safe return they would drop money into the box. It was then sealed up and kept onboard drung the entire voyage from Sydney, Australia to Hobart, Tasmania. When the ship came home safely the box was opened and its contents were shared with the poor. In Canada, consumers no longer deal with the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker, but remember their broker, post person or hairstylist. Canadians also partake in a polar bear dip for the poor but in recent years it's become more of a New Year's Day tradition.

It's gratuities of all kind, along with food and boxes of clothing for the poor, that are presumed to be the derivative of Boxing Day. As with any holiday -- new traditions rise up every year -- but ideally it remains a time when the queen remembers her servants, when the boss shall remember his menials, and when the poor shall be remembered by all of us.