Dear Hope Nation,
Yesterday was Christmas, so today is December 26 aka St. Stephen’s Day aka Boxing Day aka the day after Christmas. (That lower-case “d” in the last phrase makes me sad, although I can’t say why. Perhaps it is because our British cousins have an extra holiday, while we have to settle for an adjectival phrase.)
Saint Stephen was, of course, a Christian martyr, killed by Swedish pagans in the 800s. He was also the patron saint of horses, leading to a Munich St. Stephen’s Day tradition of riding horses around churches’ interior. This continued until 1876 and I, frankly, would love to see it reinstated. What better way to celebrate December 27 than cleaning up horse dropping left on December 26?
King Wenceslaus of Bohemia, as we all know through the crooning of Bing Crosby, set out on his journey on St. Stephen’s Day, his page following in his footsteps to be saved from the blizzard in which they traveled. Wenceslaus the Good was also martyred, by his brother Boleslaus the Cruel, and elevated to Saint Wenceslaus immediately. (A brief aside: what did the boys’ parents think was going to happen, attaching such monikers to their kids? If I’d named my youngest daughter Elizabeth the Shy, I wouldn’t expect her to be a social butterfly.) For obscure (to me) reasons, a cult of admirers grew up in both Bohemia (in present day Czechoslovakia) and England. The British contingent led to our Christmas carol, while the Czech resulted in a legend that a statue of Wenceslaus will come to life if the land is ever threatened. Unfortunately, I don’t think Crosby, Tony Bennett or Nat King Cole ever recorded a song about this.
When I first heard of Boxing Day as a young child, I pictured English folk—everyone from the Queen to Dickensian workhouse orphans to Yorkshiremen to Ringo Starr standing opposite one another, their fists raised according to the Marquis of Queensbury rules. To my seven-year-old mind, steeped in commercials for Rock Em Sock Em Robots, skulls popped off shoulders across the Old English Isles while I sledded the New England hills. Boxing Day, I’ve since found out, has nothing to do with the sport of Ali or Tyson. Still, just as I enjoy believing animals can speak at midnight on Christmas Eve, I like the thought of heads being replaced with a snap at midnight on December 26.
My next misconception about the holiday was more practical and less violent, but no less wrong. Boxing Day, I reasoned, came the day after Christmas, a time when people’s houses were a celebratory mess. December 26 was set aside to clean up and place in boxes all the decorations and already-broken toys from the day before. I imagined Boxing Day as a time of reflection as people remembered the stories connected to each ornament before wrapping it in tissue for its 11-month dormancy. Likewise, it was a day for clearing out the broken or worn-out strings of light or threadbare garlands. As stuff got thrown out, each cleaner would make a mental note to replace them at the after-Christmas sales, a note written in mental sand leading to a hurried trip to the store the following December.
The truth about Boxing Day, of course, is that it’s a day of charity. Whether giving boxes of leftovers to servants who’d slaved away all Christmas and were now given a holiday or making an especially large donation to the church’s alms box, Boxing Day is a time for thinking of those less fortunate. This holiday is one we should adopt. Whether giving five dollars to the homeless, taking gently used winter clothing to the Salvation Army or, even, making a donation to a charity helping folks escape addiction, today is a day for making manifest our concern and care for our fellow humans. They matter.
You matter. I matter. We matter.