I just turned 42 this week, young for some of my readers and old for others I suppose (or secretly hope). My birthday was actually Christmas Eve. The first question that brings to mind when people turn to the inevitable discussion of birthdays is "wasn't I gypped growing up?"
I have to admit the answer is a big emphatic "NO". My family always made sure that my birthday was my birthday and Christmas was Christmas. My mother tells a story about when I was three I found out that it was my birthday and of course, I received my birthday presents. The next day Santa Claus came and there were more presents. I must have figured this was the start of a trend as the following day, I woke my parents early in the morning and reportedly asked my mom to take me downstairs to see what Santa brought this day. She grumbled and said something to the effect, "Trust me. There are no new presents down there." Needless to say I'm guessing I wasn't content until I checked for myself.
December 26th, which is Boxing Day in Great Britain, while in the United States today could be called Returns and Clearance Day which is what many of us do today. Boxing Day has English origins and while it is not officially celebrated in this country, it is a holiday in the United Kingdom.
There are a few theories as to its purpose. One is the day was celebrated by servants and working class people who had to work on Christmas Day. It was traditional for their employers to give them a "Christmas Box" to open on December 26th.
Another possibility is the churches opened their poor boxes and distributed the alms to the poor on December 26th, also known as the Feast of St. Stephen. The hymn "Good King Wenceslas" discusses the practice of helping the poor. It's opening lyric indicates the hymn's time frame is Boxing Day. "Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen…". St. Stephen was the first martyr of the Christian faith who died by stoning while witnessing about God to them. He died begging God not to punish the mob.
Boxing Day later became the day to remember all service people such as delivery people, doormen, trades people and porters for example by giving them a special gratuity for their service throughout the year.
Besides being Boxing Day, it is also the first day of Christmas in which our true loves gives us a Partridge in a Pear Tree. This is a countdown to the celebration of Epiphany, the day the Magi arrived in Bethlehem to worship Christ the King and offer their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
The song's lyrics were written in the Middle Ages at some point during the time Catholicism was banned England to help young children remember and learn the religion. Each gift represented some part of the faith.
If you are interested, here is a quick summary. Day One represents Jesus Christ, Day Two is the Old and New Testaments, day three or the three theological virtues faith, hope and charity. The Fourth is the four gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The fifth day represents the Books of the Pentateuch or the first five books of the bible. The sixth day represents the six days of creation, while the seventh represents the seven sacraments of the Holy Spirit, the eighth day reminds children of the Beatitudes.
The ninth day of Christmas represents the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit, the tenth day is the Ten Commandments and the eleventh day are the eleven faithful disciples who remained at Jesus' side and the final twelfth day reminds students of the twelve points of doctrine found in the Apostles' Creed.
Fortunately, in 1829 the ban on Catholicism was lifted and Catholics did not have to practice in the shadows of the English government and the song slowly morphed into just being a fun kid's song and many of us forgot or never learned the original meanings.
So while we cast off the day after Christmas as a rest day, a present exchange day or even a shopping day, it is a celebrated holiday in other countries especially those affiliated with England. From my point of view, Boxing Day has always been my day off from traveling to relatives' homes and the bustle of the holiday. Granted most of my family is fairly local so travel isn't too monumental a task, it still makes Christmas an extremely busy day and gives me a reason to look forward to December 26th as a quiet day.
Before I sign off on my last column of 2009, I would like to thank all of you my readers for a great six years. I'm deeply humbled and grateful to all of you who read my column either periodically or faithfully. I realize that sometimes my words may not match everyone's opinions, but I like to be entertaining, informative and relevant when I can. I want to wish all of you a happy, healthy and safe New Year celebration, and I will see you in 2010. I look forward to writing for you more.
Til next time, have a Happy, Blessed and safe New Year's Celebration…