Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Holiday Traditions Evolve, Mix Commerce and Charity  

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, January 6 / 14

Zack Gross

As we look at the 2013 holiday season in our rear-view mirrors and think about what New Year resolutions might survive beyond the first month of 2014, it is worth taking stock of what the holidays mean for us. 

Most people would say that seeing family and friends comes first, others might be focused on gift giving and receiving, still others are happy to get away from their workplaces or schools for a while.

Some might consider the charitable side of the holiday season as a priority. 

No question, we think of December as the “time for giving” and it is the time when charities promote their programs and their needs, reminding us that there is little time left to make a charitable tax donation before the New Year comes along. 

So, whether one is supporting a local food bank or a global relief organization, the holidays are as important for the non-profit as they are for the big box store.

And, speaking of boxes and charity, how many in our generation remember the original meaning of Boxing Day?  Today, it is a day to return unwanted gifts or take advantage of deep discount sales. 

Commercially speaking, what was once Boxing Day has morphed into Boxing Week and, because this was a disappointing year for the retail sector, many Boxing Week sales began before Christmas!

What was once a “day off” on December 26th, is now a workday for people in retail, with stores opening as early as 6 a.m.  In recent years, US big box stores have reported violence amongst customers vying for prize mega-screen TVs and other electronic marvels. 

While 83% of Canadians said in a recent Angus Reid Poll that the holidays are too commercial and while Canadians have cut back to a certain degree due to concerns about employment, retailers still depend on us in December.

 Boxing Day has also become a time for holiday dinner leftovers and drinking/snacking in front of the television, in Canada watching the World Junior Hockey Tournament, in the US watching college football bowl games and in Great Britain watching soccer. 

Around the world, Commonwealth countries that recognize Boxing Day often use it as a day of cultural celebration. 

When I was a kid, many years ago, Boxing Day seemed to be about my parents wrapping up small boxes of gifts for the tradespeople who made our lives better – the postal carrier, the milk and bread delivery people, the folks who collected our garbage and so on.  These people usually got cigarettes (no longer the correct choice), chocolates or something similar from us. 

Today, we likely still carry on that tradition, although we don’t always associate it with a particular day, just a time to say Thank You to teachers, service providers and maybe our favourite neighbours. 

As you would expect, I delivered boxes of fair trade chocolates to the auto dealer who keeps our old cars going, the school secretaries who support our local students, my local postal outlet, the local museum which hosts many excellent programs and my favourite family business grocery store.

The origin of Boxing Day is attributed by some to good old King Wenceslas, who actually was the Duke of Bohemia and who, according to the Christmas Carol, was surveying his land on December 26th (St. Stephen’s Day) when he saw a poor man gathering firewood in the midst of a snowstorm. 

In response, Wenceslas was moved to gather up some surplus food and wine and take these to that particular peasant’s door and thus, some would argue, began the tradition of charitable giving the day after Christmas. 

In Europe, many food and financial drives culminate on that day.

The Church of England has its own version of King Wenceslas’ generosity and Boxing Day.  Parishes in Britain set up boxes in their buildings during Advent so that those better off could fill them with donations of money in particular.  These boxes were then broken open on Boxing Day and the funds were distributed to the poor. 

The British aristocracy also used this day to give their servants and employees presents - a Christmas bonus as it were, which they took home and opened. 

England, Wales, Ireland and Canada have all considered Boxing Day a national holiday, at least “officially
,” since 1871!

Because the arrival of charge card bills follow shopping as surely as January follows December, we are now into the period where generosity takes a back seat and people scramble to pay off their gift-buying sprees.  For the charitable organization, just as for the retail operation, the only hope is spring, when warmer weather and replenished bank accounts have people out spending again. 

Until then, as Red Green would say, keep your stick on the ice, I’m pulling for you!

Zack Gross works for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations.

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