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Friday, December 22, 2006

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Singing the praises of Boxing Day

I acknowledge that it's eccentric, I really do. While other people number among their favorite holidays Christmas, Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July, I always stand up for the wonderful holiday that comes just after Christmas. No, not New Year's Eve. Boxing Day.

All Rocky jokes aside, most of us understand that this is not a day of commemoration for pugilists. Most sources trace the history of Boxing Day celebrated on December 26 back to pre-industrial Britain, where in centuries past, wealthy landowners and domestic employers gave their servants boxed gifts, and sometimes Christmas leftovers, on the day following their own opulent celebrations.

During my childhood, even though I treasured all of the showier aspects of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I secretly counted down the hours until December 26 or, as I thought of it, play-with-your-new-toys day. We spent alternate years with my mother's family in Colorado, where Boxing Day has an extra allure for skiers those who are able to mobilize before noon find the shortest lift lines of the winter. (Nonetheless, ski patrol would probably argue that it's their busiest day of the year, with those who do venture out testing new equipment they haven't yet mastered.) During my college years, Boxing Day always seemed more like the start of winter break than the day we actually left the dorms not until the flurry of Christmas activity was over did it really feel like a vacation. Then I'd put on my sweatpants and read the kind of novels that the academic calendar didn't leave room for.

As a parent, I find Boxing Day no less appealing than I did as a college student. With the kids' attention consumed by their new presents, I take advantage of the opportunity to smuggle some outgrown or lesser-used toys out of the playroom and into boxes marked "Goodwill." On any other day of the year, my children inevitably catch me at this task and suddenly remember how much they've always loved that particular plastic farm set or play-dough barber shop kit. Generally, my efforts to purge the playroom and attic of toys result in a larger build-up than ever of toys on the floor. But not on Boxing Day. On December 26, I'm on my own to fill boxes with all of the previous year's outgrown toys.

And then there are the other items to be boxed the leftovers. Just as it's the one day when I don't worry what anyone is going to play with, it's a day for not worrying about what anyone will want to eat. Leftovers abound, from the oranges the kids found in their stockings to the deviled eggs from Christmas brunch to the rich gooey desserts of the previous night's dinner, even richer and gooier for having sat in the fridge overnight. We all eat well on Boxing Day and usually without dirtying a single pan or mixing bowl.

Several years ago, I left on a business trip to London the day after Christmas. A friend who lived in London at the time — but was here in the U.S. when I departed expressed amazement at the timing of my trip. "Nobody is in London this week!" she said, and it seemed to me once I arrived that she was right, but I didn't mind at all. London was dank, cold and quiet. I strolled through nearly empty corridors at the British Museum and found sections of Hyde Park where I couldn't see another human form through the light mist. Rather than feeling lonely, it felt like a quiet, contemplative time to be in the city.

In more recent years, Boxing Day and the week that follows have had additional significance to me. With my sisters and their families living out of state, Christmas week is the time of year to find all of us most likely to be within the same household. They arrive just before Christmas and we're all almost too busy then to enjoy a visit, with last-minute holiday baking, parties to attend, gifts to wrap and excited children to run after. Once Boxing Day arrives, the pace slows down and we can enjoy each other's company amidst a little bit more serenity.

Leftovers. New books and CDs and games and toys. Cheerful, busy children. Friends available to get together where normally it's hard to match schedules. A time to imagine the stillness of the earth, in darkest winter, just before the days start lengthening, the new semester begins, the professional calendar swings into full midwinter force. Happy, peaceful Boxing Day to all.


2006 The Carlisle Mosquito