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The Day After

 

It’s December 26. The Christmas Ham is now a Christmas Hambone that will soon be made into soup. You’ve unwrapped your presents, the crumpled paper and ribbon stuffed into garbage bags that could fill a small-town landfill. Soon the tree and decorations will look as out-of-place as street urchins at a white-tie dinner.

Welcome to the post-holiday blues.

Sure, you have New Year’s Eve to look forward to, but why wait a whole week for another celebration? Our neighbors to the north and the folks across the pond know how to keep the party going. Here are three festivities that take place the day after Christmas in Canada, Great Britain and Europe:

BOXING DAY

No, you don’t have to strap on gloves and climb into the ring for this celebration. You might want to slip on your most comfortable pair of shoes, as Boxing Day is a hectic shopping day in England and Canada. In days of yore, fox-hunting was a popular event the day after Christmas, but British lawmakers banned the sport in 2004. Still, that doesn’t stop some folks from sporting natty red coats and participating in mock hunting trials. Boxing Day is also a big day for soccer matches, horse racing and general tomfoolery, such as taking a dip in the icy English Channel.

Why is it called “Boxing Day?” Several explanations have been posited. In the Downton Abbey era, Boxing Day was a holiday for servants in which they received a “Christmas box” of goodies from their employer. In many parts of Great Britain, clergy would place a money-box in their churches during the holidays and then distribute the collection to the needy on the day after Christmas. Back when stately sailing ships prepared for a voyage, a sealed box of legal tender was brought on board for good luck. If the ship returned safely to port, the box was handed over to a priest, opened at Christmas and the contents given to the poor.

WREN DAY

wrenEver have a hankering to dress like a scarecrow, blacken your face with burnt cork and parade around town with a bird on a stick? Then Wren Day is for you. Celebrated mainly in Ireland, Wren Day used to involve killing a wren–a small, brownish bird that the Irish pronounce “ran”–as a symbol of the death of the old year. Today’s post-Christmas celebration does not involve avian bloodshed, but instead an artificial wren is placed atop a decorated pole and paraded around the streets. Participants wear old clothes or straw costumes and go door-to-door collecting money for charity.

Beats hanging around the house and taking down the lights, I guess.

ST. STEPHEN’S DAY

Stephen, if you recall, was the first martyr of the church, stoned for his outspoken belief in Jesus (Acts 6-7). The hymn, Good King Wenceslas, takes place on the Feast of St. Stephen, which is a grand day of celebration across Europe. Many villages hold parades and carnivals. In Italy, it is a family tradition to visit outdoor nativity scenes. Poles toss rice at each other, a symbol of Stephen’s stoning. In rural areas of Europe, priests bless horses because of a legend that St. Stephen loved the animals.

Fulgentius of Ruspe, a bishop of North Africa in the early 6th century AD, wrote of St. Stephen’s Day, “Yesterday we celebrated the birth in time of our eternal King. Today we celebrate the triumphant suffering of His soldier. Yesterday our King, clothed in His robe of flesh, left His place in the Virgin’s womb and graciously visited the  world. Today His soldier leaves the tabernacle of his body and goes triumphantly to heaven.”

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So there you have it: three post-Christmas celebrations that don’t involve a champagne hangover or staying up to watch a silly ball drop in Times Square. By the way, have I said how marvelous you look in straw?

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