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king wenceslaus on old biscuit tin

I hope everyone had a delightful Christmas, whether or not you celebrate it as a religious holiday! If all has gone well, I will be driving back from Boston during the day today, December 26, and be back in time for this diary to post.

December 26 is not observed as a holiday in the U.S., more's the pity, but is known in many other parts of the Western world as Boxing Day. Interestingly, snopes.com has the most detail on the origin of the name:

Despite the lively images suggested by the name, it has nothing to do with pugilistic expositions between tanked-up family members who have dearly been looking forward to taking a round out of each other for the past year. Likewise, it does not gain its name from the overpowering need to rid the house of an excess of wrappings and mountains of now useless cardboard boxes the day after St. Nick arrived...
There is general agreement that the name recalls a tradition of the wealthy giving to poorer folk, but it's unknown whether the contents of the boxes were tips or gifts, or if they were a nobleman's obligation to serfs or servants. Maybe the boxes were carried home by servants who had to work on Christmas but got the next day off. Or maybe the box was the church "poor box", opened on Christmas and the alms distributed the next day.

Here, help me carry this orange parcel over the fold...

Saint Stephen 11th century Byzantine iconThe more secular Boxing Day coincides (in the Western church) with a religious holiday, the Feast of St. Stephen. Stephen was appointed a deacon by the Apostles, a person whose job was to distribute charity from the church to the poor. Since Stephen became a saint by dint of being the "first martyr of Christianity," things ended as badly as you might imagine. The Boxing Day tradition of giving to the less fortunate, no matter which origin story for the name "Boxing Day" is right, commemorates Stephen's good works among the poor.

His feast day may be most widely known today from one of my favorite "Christmas" carols, really a Boxing Day carol: Good King Wenceslaus. That song is based on another saint, Wenceslaus I, 10th-century Duke of Bohemia. In the carol, Wenceslaus sees a poor man gathering firewood on St. Stephen's Day, and decides to carry on the saint's tradition and bring food and drink to the man's home, even through biting cold wind. He performs a miracle when his page, freezing as he helps carry the poor man's gifts, is warmed by walking in Wenceslaus' footprints.

A lot of Christmas songs are beautiful or nostalgia-inducing. Many have a joyous emotional tone that is infectious. But Good King Wenceslaus is about a wealthy person doing the right thing, and I love his story. It's one carol where all the verses need to be sung! For the more traditional-minded, here's a link to the Westminster Abbey Choir version, but I do like this one by the Irish Rovers:

So! Tell us about your holidays! Did you do anything fun? Or anything nice for someone who needed it? Are you almost funned out? What is your story?


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Kitchen Table Kibitzing is a community series for those who wish to share part of their evening around a virtual kitchen table with kossacks who are caring and supportive of one another. So bring your stories, jokes, photos, funny pics, music, interesting videos, and so forth. We would also appreciate links—including quotations—to diaries, news stories, and books that you think this community would appreciate.

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