Today Is Boxing Day, A Great Idea That Turned into Wretched Excess
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Boxing Day is a statutory holiday in most of the English speaking world outside of the United States, but this year most Americans get the day off too because Christmas fell on a Sunday. In Canada and the UK, it has become a version of Black Friday, where everyone lines up at the stores in search of bargains. But it used to have real meaning. I described it in 2009:
The original idea made some sense; the Victorian gentry couldn't do anything without servants, certainly not cook up a Christmas dinner, so all their staff worked Christmas Day and got the next day off to spend with their families. They took away their annual bonuses, gifts and leftovers, while gentry ate cold cuts prepared the day before.
The churches opened up their alms boxes and distributed the contents to the poor; there was also a tradition of keeping one unopened gift and donating it to charity. Many people today work in food banks, donate excess gifts to the poor and make a point of polishing off leftovers.
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It was a holiday about equity- ensuring that everyone got a day off, even those who had to work on Christmas. It was a real buy-nothing day; you were supposed to use up what you had left over and give away what you didn't need. It was the exact opposite of the orgy of consumption that it has become.
Perhaps Americans, at one time a more egalitarian culture, had no need of such a tradition. But now, the idea of boxing up the leftovers and the sweaters we don't need (or the ones that are replaced) for delivery to the homeless and hungry might not be a bad tradition to start.