TO my mind, Dec. 26th is the most wonderful day of the year. Christmas gets all the ink, pro and con, but Boxing Day is my idea of perfect happiness.
That’s not because I will join the unsatisfied hordes at local malls to rectify whatever disappointments Christmas itself may have perpetrated. I won’t be bargainhunting at mega-marts, either, lining up for discounted wrapping paper or sacks of half-smashed cranberries.
Nor will I follow the example of giving money or gifts to less fortunate people on Dec. 26th, like “Good King Wenceslas” on the “Feast of Stephen” in the 1853 carol. That’s a practice most Canadians now pursue before the holiday.
Instead, I will do what I always do -- revel in the pure, delightful reality that Christmas is over. This is the one day of the year when, ideally, your only real duty is to chill-ax.
Back in my youth, Boxing Day was a holiday for the retail sector, as well -- no shopping could be accomplished. So we children sat around sullenly, shocked that there was now no outlet for our epic greed. Dec. 26th was sheer, pointless anticlimax. Who needed it?
Turns out, my parents did, just as parents do now. For exhausted mothers and fathers in particular, Boxing Day is the ultimate reward.
Anyway, in my warped personal playbook, the day after something is generally better than the day of. The pressure’s off. With luck, there are tales to tell about the previous night’s shenanigans. For me, it’s a joy to wake up the morning following any successful dinner party and see the dirty glasses and smeared plates and empty wine bottles that are the evidence of friends having drunk well, and eaten well, and had a great time.
Fastidious people do it differently, of course, completing all their cleaning right after the guests leave, or while the guests are still there, so the next morning there’s no physical evidence that anything took place. They have their memories, of course, and maybe a few incriminating photos, but they are fully prepared -- anxious, even -- to move on to the next big project.
Not me. Perpetually half-dazed, I don’t remember much of anything. So I need to see the glasses that were re-filled so late they didn’t make it into the dishwasher, and the pots that were sufficiently encrusted that they had to soak off the remnants of their triumphs all night. Like a queen inspecting her guard, I’ll review the carnage, the trickles of dried gravy trailing down the cabinets, the spattered sauce in random corners, and the half-dozen spent lemons slumped together behind the martini shaker. (Fortunately, dead lemons tell no tales.) Our horrifically messy kitchen proves that something wonderful happened there and, some day, in the far future, something wonderful might happen there again.
Once upon a time, there was an exhibition at Ottawa’s National Gallery of paintings and sculptures by Edgar Degas, the French impressionist best known for his works featuring ballerinas and racehorses. I was writing about it for the Calgary Herald, and interviewed an expert (whose name and sex I forget) about Degas’ favourite themes. This person pointed out that Degas was most fascinated by the moments just before the main event -- when the dancer, her insides coursing with pre-performance butterflies, was waiting in the wings for her cue to go on, or the jockeys on their horses were counting down the seconds until the crack of the starter’s gun.
I guess I’m the opposite when it comes to my own festivities. Preparing for them is fun, and I always enjoy the party at the time, but I absolutely wallow in the messy, self-satisfied aftermath.
Apart from that, the best thing about Boxing Day is that it gives those of us who have celebrated Christmas the opportunity to absorb our blessings.
For most, there’s a pleasant surfeit of leftover food. At the same time, there’s no obligation to prepare formal meals. (As you’re likely aware, cold dressing scooped with one’s fingers straight from the fridge is one of the unsung pleasures of North American life.) Breakfast, lunch or dinner (or all three) can be taken solo, no questions asked, your head bent over your new book as cranberry sauce plops onto its pristine pages from your turkey sandwich.
There are cookies and chocolates scattered about the joint. Wine at 11:30 a.m.? Why not? Port at 4? Well, gotta get rid of it -- you’re not going to want that in March. Where’s that half-round of stinky cheese? It’s wasting valuable space in the overstuffed fridge.
We all know the media will inundate us with dreary and obvious weight loss counsel come Jan. 1, so it’s best to enjoy our vices while we still can.
After the required clean-up, December 26th is a day that ought to be devoted to listening to new CDs, playing with exciting toys, and making the phone calls we let slip by on Christmas day because we thought the wires would be jammed.
There’s always something delicious on TV, as well. For some reason, it’s the norm for at least one channel to be playing Goodfellas. I’m not sure which satanic programmer first decided that Martin Scorsese’s 1990 masterpiece about vicious, greedy, drugged-out mobsters was good holiday eatin’, but he or she persists. Thousands of bloated Canadians evidently now believe that on this date every December, watching Goodfellas is traditional.
The ultimate Boxing Day treat for me, however, came a few years ago. My family had returned from our then-usual routine of spending the holiday with my parents in Sechelt. We had young kids at the time, so the event had been lovely but also hectic, made even more hair-raising by ferry traffic.
After helping to haul in the luggage and put the unwrapped presents in heaps to be organized later, I threw myself onto the couch and hoisted the remote control. And what was on TV but, to my mind, the absolute best possible thing for a Boxing Day afternoon -- the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice, starring the immortal Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and a sparkling Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet.
That was it; I was down for the count. A glass of wine, a plate of high-fat goodies, and the perennially tortured Mr. Darcy emerging from the lake in front of his stately home in a wet see-through shirt -- all was right with the world.
I dearly hope that your Boxing Day is as thoroughly satisfying as that.