Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Happy Boxing Day from Tricia McGill

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A great deal has been written about Christmas Day, its history and its traditions. Whether Christian or otherwise probably everyone in the world knows its meaning and many share the day with family and friends. But not so many know about Boxing Day, its origins and meaning—myself included. To me as I grew up it was just the day after Christmas Day and I never took the time to ponder on why it was called such.

I remember it as a day for eating leftover turkey, home-made mince pies and pudding, and the family lazing around or playing cards in the afternoon and into evening. Card games were a staple pastime with my family. When not partying or arguing, any family gathering eventually ended up with a game of cards. The stakes were high, usually matchsticks. One of my father’s favourites was Cribbage: http://www.cribbage.org/rules/rule1.asp

This game needed a board and I brought my Dad’s one with me around the world and have put it away safely, so darned safe that I currently don’t know where it is. Perhaps I have given it to a younger family member for safe keeping. It wasn’t smart like the modern ones but brown with curved edges, something like this picture. The pegs were lost ages ago but my memories were of matchsticks always being used.

Apparently Boxing Day is only celebrated in a few countries, and likely only those with connections to the UK such as Australia, Canada (not so sure of) South Africa and New Zealand.  It’s also celebrated in Germany (Zweite Feiertag) Any German folk who read this please feel free to correct me on my spelling.

It all began in the Middle Ages around 800 years ago in the UK. In those days an alms box was kept in the churches and opened the day after Christmas Day, so the contents could be distributed among the poor folk in the parish, of which there were likely to be many. This tradition is still kept in some churches and the “box” still opened on Boxing Day. As a side note, some collection boxes in Holland were made out of earthenware in the shape of pigs, so it is likely this was where the term “Piggy Bank” was born.

Another memory I have was that the postman, milkman, baker, butcher etc., in fact any delivery man, was always given what my parents called a “Christmas Box” which was a small payment and as much as they could afford. This tradition apparently springs from the old one where large manor houses with servants always gave the staff a day off on Boxing Day to spend with their families and they were also usually given a gift. When we first settled in Australia (in the days when the postman etc. actually knocked at the door to deliver) it was custom to give them bottles of beer or similar. Even the garbage men received something in those days. This custom all stopped because the garbage truck now picks up the bins with his truck’s mechanical arm and the driver has no contact with us except the occasional wave as he passes. Similarly the postman/woman whizzes by on his/her mini motorbike, barely stopping long enough to deposit the mail in our letterbox. Those were the good old days when we actually had a few welcome words to say to the people who served us instead of talking to machines as we do in a lot of our larger stores today.

A lot of sport is played on Boxing Day. Here we have the cricket, which is a massive event in Melbourne. The Boxing Day Test match is held between our National team and a visiting team. Not sure who they are playing against this year as I am not a cricket fan. Another huge sporting event is the Bluewater Classic, a yacht race that starts on Boxing Day from Sydney Harbour and covers 630 nautical miles to end in Hobart, beautiful Tasmania. I was fortunate to see the start of the race years ago from one of the great vantage points around the Harbour with a yachting friend of ours. It was quite a spectacular sight.

Another great memory from my childhood in London was the pantomime. My mother ensured that I saw one most years, and these mostly started playing around Christmas time or soon after. Sometimes we would go to the local church hall where amateurs performed and other times to a theatre. What a fun outing that was. It is a tradition that is still carried on in the UK where nowadays well-known celebrities take part. The ugly sisters of Cinderella were always men in drag, and Aladdin oddly always played by a female. The audience shared the fun, as part of the enjoyment was that you were urged to join in with lots of shouting and booing etc.

 The 26th of December is also known as St. Stephen’s Day, and there were two St. Stephen’s in history, one believed to have been the first Christian Martyr. He was said to have been stoned to death by some who did not believe in Jesus. The other St. Stephen was a missionary who was a devout animal lover who especially loved horses. Also a Martyr, he was killed by pagans in Sweden.

One of the carols I loved as a child was Good King Wenceslas. The rest of the carol has faded from my memory but I well recall the first verse, which of course was set on the Feast of Stephen (St. Stephen’s Day). Because the good King was helping the poor there was a strong connection to Boxing Day.

“Good King Wenceslas looked out, upon the Feast of Stephen, when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even. Brightly shone the moon that night, though the frost was cruel, when a poor man came in sight, gathering winter fuel.”

How many of you were singing along with that as I was as I wrote it.

Here in Australia the post-Christmas sales start on Boxing Day where the stock left over after the Christmas rush is sold at reduced prices. It is often a scramble to get a bargain, and I personally take no part in it. I hate shopping at the best of times and the idea of being pushed and shoved by bargain-hunters does not appeal to me, but many make it a regular outing and have been known to pick up phenomenal bargains
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My appreciation to the following for most of the above facts:

I wish everyone a magnificent 2018 and may we all enjoy the best of health and happiness. And wouldn’t it be the best year ever if we all finally learnt to live together in the harmony we yearn for.

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