I’ve always felt sorry for Americans that they don’t get to enjoy Boxing Day the way we do, as an official holiday. Yes, they do get Christmas Day off, but it’s then back to work and business as usual on the 26th, while north of the border Canadians are sitting with their feet up, dipping into Christmas goodies and generally recovering from the day before.
Author Bill Bryson, who grew up in the States but has spent most of his adult life living in Britain, wrote a regular column for the Mail on Sunday’s Night & Day magazine when he returned to live in America for a time in the late 1990s. Having had an opportunity to experience Christmas in Britain, he noted all the things absent from the festivities in America, such as Christmas pantomimes, mince pies, and Christmas crackers.
However, what he missed most was Boxing Day, noting that he much preferred it to Christmas Day. “It has all the advantages of Christmas (lots of food and drink, general goodwill towards all, a chance to doze in an armchair during daylight hours) without any of the disadvantages like spending hours on the floor trying to assemble doll’s houses and bicycles from instructions written in Taiwan or the uttering of false professions of gratitude to Aunt Gladys for a hand-knitted jumper. (‘No honestly, Glad, I’ve been looking everywhere for a jumper with a unicorn motif.’)”
The more you think about it, the more you realize Bryson is absolutely correct to feel that Boxing Day is (in many ways) superior to Christmas Day. Dec. 25 comes fraught with all manner of high expectations, from finding and purchasing the perfect gifts for everyone on your list to preparing the perfect meal, to trying to coordinate schedules in today’s world (“If we head out no later than 11 a.m. we can spend two hours with your parents for lunch before dropping in on my dad and his new wife for an hour, and as long as the roads are good we should be at Mom’s house in time for dinner”).
For parents with young children there’s the question of whether to have Christmas dinner at home (so the kids don’t have to be dragged away from their presents almost as soon as they’ve opened them), or go to a relative’s house for Christmas dinner. Both approaches bring their own stresses. By having Christmas dinner at home you face all that cooking and cleaning, as well as the expectation that dinner will be like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting, whereas it’s more likely to resemble the dinner scene in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. If you go somewhere else, you face explaining to tearful children why they can’t bring their new treasures with them.
The situation will not be helped by the fact that the children have probably been up since the crack of dawn, meaning you have been too, so by mid-afternoon everyone is liable to be a bit on the cranky side, peace and goodwill to all notwithstanding. And woe betide any parent who neglected to spot that the six C-cell batteries needed to make a certain toy work were not included.
All of that stress and tension vanishes the moment the clock ticks over to Boxing Day. If you bit the bullet and hosted Christmas dinner, then there’s little or no cooking to be done, as family members wander to the fridge at regular intervals to nibble on turkey, or dip into Christmas goodies as they put their feet up. Now that Christmas movies aren’t airing on every channel there’s a good chance of finding something decent on TV, and you can relax, safe in the knowledge that Christmas music has vanished for at least 10 months.
So I’m in complete agreement with Bill Bryson about Boxing Day. Of course I look forward to Christmas Day, but that contented sigh you hear come Dec. 26 will be me, relaxing. Could you pass that box of chocolates, please?