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Happy Boxing Day: History Hidden in the Snow

 

Midas in a Box

The day after Christmas is Boxing Day in Canada. The 26th of December was the day of let-down after the fervor of Christmas, but I did like the sound of the phrase Boxing Day. The origin of the holiday was murky in my mind as a child, though I remember the part about British gentlefolk giving their servants the day off and boxes of gifts. Cats understand Boxing Day instinctively, and only require the box, with nothing but themselves in it.

I didn’t realize that the 26th is also the feast day of St. Stephen, who gave alms to the poor, and makes Boxing Day part of a much older tradition. I wonder about the history embedded in our lives that we do not notice, a deep well of unheard stories. The carol Good King Wenceslas is also connected to this day, and I never noticed that Christmas is not mentioned. My favorite lines:

Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,

When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even

The rhythm in these words pleased me as a child, the emphasis for each of deep, crisp, even. That king Wenceslas was actually a Duke, retroactively named a King by Emperor Otto is another bit of history buried in the snow. The Good King sees a poor man out in the snow, and gives him food and fuel. Fr. James Martin talks of the version by The Roches, and the pause they take before the final line, “Ye who now shall bless the poor shall yourself find blessing.”

The word “alms” intrigued me because it reminds me of my last name, Almon. Alms comes in part from the Greek “eleemon” meaning compassionate.

For an unusual version of the carol, I found this one sung by Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney, illustrated by DC comics. Look for the shadow of Batman at the end. http://youtu.be/A47qu7deSyY

 

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