Christmas comes only once a year, and in my opinion it seems a bit rude to rush a guest out practically as soon as he arrives. – Maggie McNeill
As I explained in yesterday’s column, Christmas was a twelve-day festival from the very beginning; the ancient Sumerians who originated the holiday had a duodecimal number system and attached mystic significance to the number twelve, which is more easily and conveniently subdivided than ten. And though the holiday became much shorter among the Greeks and Romans, the traditional twelve-day length survived in the winter celebrations of the peoples of northern Europe and became part of Christmas when the Germanic Yule was absorbed into it during the period of Christianization. Originally, there were different traditional activities for each day of the festival, leading up to Twelfth Night when Christmas gave way to Carnival. And though some heavily-Celtic parts of the British Isles still celebrate pre-Christian traditions (Wren Day or Mummers’ Day) on the second day of Christmas, in most places it is Boxing Day or St. Stephen’s Day, and was strongly associated with charity (which is why Good King Wenceslas was described as helping the poor wood-gatherer on this day). It was also a time for visiting friends, or just relaxing from the hustle and bustle of Christmas Day.
In recent years, however, it’s become the Commonwealth equivalent of the American “Black Friday”, a day on which retailers slash prices so as to get rid of overstock. And now that more Americans are staying away from “Black Friday” stupidity (this year saw an especially sharp decline), how much longer can it possibly be before US merchants add Boxing Day sales as well? My advice to all of you is to stay home and enjoy your feast leftovers, go visiting friends, or do the old-fashioned thing and give to some worthy charity if you haven’t already this season. There will be other sales, and why wait in long lines to return unwanted gifts when you can do it more quickly after New Years’ Day? As I wrote last year, it’s silly to cut the holiday short; even if you have to return to work today, you can certainly be at least as festive for the next eleven days as you’ve been for the past month.