Well, Christmas is over. At least it is for most contemporary Americans. If you lived in the Middle Ages it would just be getting started. This would be the famous “second day of Christmas” and, who knows, many people might be getting two turtle doves as a present. OK, probably not.
This is also known as St. Stephen’s Day, or St Stephen’s Feast Day, a day known to most Americans only by the song “Good King Wenseslas.” It is celebrated in many Catholic countries. The Eastern Orthodox celebrate St. Stephen’s Day too, just not today. To my Irish ancestors this was Wren’s Day. I won’t go into details on that one as, for those of you who lean that way, you’ve probably used up all your outrage about “pagan roots” with Christmas and there is a whole bunch of paganism at the root of that celebration.
But in the UK and for most of the former British Commonwealth countries this is Boxing Day. The name comes from the Christmas boxes that employers gave servants and employees on this day. The exact origins of the day are obscure. But I have to admit that I like the idea of a day to give to those less fortunate.
Here in America December 26th is more like a version of Black Friday; it is a day that we shop for left-over bargains. If it is a Boxing Day it is because we bring back to the stores the boxes containing gifts that we want to return or exchange. Actually, in the UK, it is sort of a shopping day too.
The lesson of Boxing Day is that somehow a day intended to be marked by charitable gifts to those less fortunate has, to a considerable extent, morphed into a day of bargain-hunting and attempts to get, through exchange, better gifts than those which were actually given to us.
I don’t say this as a rant but an observation. Self-indulgence come comes naturally to us. Giving to those in need takes intentionality. We have to remind ourselves to do it. Perhaps a good way to celebrate Boxing Day might be to take time to ponder ways to be more charitable in the coming year; after we’ve snapped up the post-Christmas bargains of course.