Friday, December 26, 2008

Boxing Day

A couple of decades ago the Lady Friend and I flew to Ireland for the Christmas holidays, visiting our younger son during his junior year abroad at University College Dublin.

Everything was splendid until December 26, when we arose to discover the entire city -- restaurants, shops, museums -- shut down for St. Stephen's Day, as the Irish call it, or Boxing Day, as the Brits do. Everybody was staying home by the fire with family.

We had no idea. Finding a place to eat was impossible, and we had to trudge through the snow back to our hotel, where a meager buffet awaited guests. We spent the day walking around Dublin gazing at buildings from the outside or huddling in our hotel room talking and reading. We barely saw another soul on the streets. Despite our loneliness and growling tummies we envied the Irish their snug tradition.

Back home in the States the day long has been orgy of post-Christmas bargain-grubbing in the shops, and in the United Kingdom and many former British possessions as well. For the Brits, Boxing Day also has become a time to visit the relatives.

It is instructive to learn that Boxing Day was once a day of giving, not getting. On the day after Christmas the upper classes handed boxes (hence the name) of gifts to their household staff, thanking them for a year of good and loyal service. That tradition of alms to the less privileged survives in a small way in special church collections and in end-of-year bonuses to those in service occupations, such as postmen and dry cleaners.

In an interesting op-ed piece in today's New York Times, the British author Judith Flanders suggests a return to the original reason for the day -- giving -- in the form of donating one's time and talents to others less fortunate, or perhaps to society at large.

Not a bad idea at all.

1 comment:

  1. We've started teh boxing day sales in NZ now too (why do we follow the USA?). Everything used to be closed on Boxing day - and it used to be a day where families would head to the beach or spend quality time together.

    No more no more!