Boxing Day, a great idea that turned into wretched excess

Boxing Day with Sale
Public Domain Boxing Day

It is Boxing Day in much of the English speaking world outside of the USA, although this year most Americans are getting the day off because Christmas was on a Sunday. However in Canada, the UK and Australia, it is one of the biggest shopping days of the year, a version of Black Friday where everyone lines up for bargains.

On December 19, 1663 Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary about running an errand: "Thence by coach to my shoemaker’s and paid all there, and gave something to the boys’ box against Christmas." It's one of the earliest references to the English tradition of putting together a box of money, gifts, hand-me-downs and even leftover food for servants who had to work Christmas day and got the next day off to spend with their families.

Last year I suggested that the reason the holiday didn't exist in the US was because "perhaps Americans were too egalitarian to have much of a servant class or too cheap to give them a day off. " A commenter corrected me, noting that many Americans had servants.

This completely fails to acknowledge the multiple-centuries long intentional, forced, uncompensated labor of kidnapped, enslaved Africans in the U.S.- from which the country STILL benefits to this day. It'd be more probable to argue that the tradition didn't survive because white Americans didn't value the lives of their enslaved servants enough to practice any modicum of compassion (in the form of a "day off" or otherwise).

boxing day torontoBoxing Day/ Wikipedia/CC BY 2.0

A few years ago I described Boxing Day as "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 it is time to bring back the best of the holiday; to celebrate equity and equality. 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. Perhaps it is time to bring Boxing Day to the USA.

Tags: Holidays

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