‘Observing Boxing Day, the American Way’
Yes, yes, I know. ‘Many happy returns’ is something you say on someone’s birthday, not Christmas. But yesterday was ‘Boxing Day’ (and, incidentally, Monday, which is when I start pondering what the heck I’m going to write about on Tuesday).
I sort of knew that December 26 was a British Holiday that originally had to do with boxing up Christmas goodies for the servants. Who had to work (duh) on Christmas Day (see Holiday episodes of ‘Downton Abbey’ for colorful detail) so they did their celebrating the day after, with the help of said donated largesse from The Master.
But — voila! — when I looked up ‘Boxing Day’ on good ole Wikipedia, there was this secondary explanation:
In modern times, it has taken on the meaning of boxing up unwanted Christmas gifts and returning them to the shop.
Yesterday I also happened upon an article in the Wall Street Journal about stores gearing up for our kind of Boxing Day. Apparently, about 10% of all gifts bought in stores are returned, and 30% of gifts bought online are. But guess how most are returned? In stores. So the smarty-pants stores stock up on stuff that you might really like in exchange for That Thing Uncle Joe Got You.
Now I bet, if you’re perfectly honest, you can think of some gifts from Christmases past that you were, well, less than thrilled to receive. I don’t have to explain, I’m sure, what would be not-so-great about being on the receiving end of a gym membership. But what about those other ‘meant-well’ gifts — the ones that, when you open them and see what’s inside, you can feel your lips forming into that sort-of-sick, fixed smile as you murmur “Oh! A teakettle! It’s just what I’ve always wanted!”
I remember my mother getting a whole series of ‘meant-well’ gifts from my father. But that teakettle was given to me by my first husband, whom you can read all about in my story ‘My Polio-Shot Marriage’. This guy was really into kitchen-gear-as-gifts. He also gave me a Mr. Coffee. It was the first year they came out, and were all the rage. I can still remember the commercials, which featured, for some strange reason, Joe DiMaggio.
Anyway, we were very young and very poor, and when I unwrapped this coffee machine, I could not hide either my disappointment — or my despair at the expense. (They are not pricey now, but sure were then, at least for us.) I remember exclaiming “But you don’t even drink coffee!” To which he replied “but it also makes hot water for tea”. I went over to the stove, grabbed my last-year’s-gift tea kettle and said “This makes hot water for tea!” He returned the Mr. Coffee.
But back to my Mom. Not only did my Dad give her ‘meant well’ gifts (like an unfortunately-hued winter coat), he gave her ‘gifts-he-really-wanted-for-himself’. The one I remembered best was the electric toothbrush, which came, he enthusiastically explained “with separate brush heads for everyone in our family”. But when I asked Mom about this gift, she said the one she remembered best (or worst?) was the electric knife. Hah! The electric knife! I remembered then that we kids teased him and asked where was the electric fork to go with it (!)
Mom also said that another Christmas he memorably got her a space heater for the bathroom. (I guess I’d moved out by then because I don’t remember that one. I also don’t remember the bathroom being cold on my visits home, so they must not have returned it.)
Which brings me (again) to the benefits of giving ‘virtual’ gifts like trips, meals, soon-to-be-knitted sweaters, even favors-in-the-form-of-coupons. (I expounded upon ‘virtual gifts’ in some length a couple of Tuesdays ago in ‘The Gift that Keeps on Giving’.) No one returns them. Even if the recipient is less than thrilled about that back rub, at least he or she doesn’t have to box it up and take it back to the store. Or pretend to adore it, which is even worse.
I could go on and on about gifts. Like the gifts you stow away until the giver comes over. Or the ones you ‘re-gift’. My Mom actually had a ‘gift drawer’ in a dresser where she kept regiftable items until she thought of a hapless recipient. Speaking of regifting, you’ve no doubt heard that there is really only one fruitcake in existence, right? Apparently, it gets regifted, and regifted again. Unless you are a Peterson and love fruitcake. (You can read about this trait in ‘The Fruitcake Gene’.)
No, I’m going to wrap things up soon. No, not more gifts; this blog. My original plan was to stop at the end of 2016. (Next week, in fact, was going to be my last post.) It’s not that I don’t like entertaining all you Faithful Readers; it’s that I want to focus my ‘creative energy’ (such as it is) on figuring out a way to turn these writings from virtual musings into a non-virtual book. (As opposed to my preference for virtual gifts, I rather like the idea of an actual, physical book.)
But then something surprisingly delightful happened. Something that convinced me that I should keep LutheranLiar looks at Life going — at least for a while.
So. Thanks for the inspiration to keep this blog going, most delightful Mary Ann — and all you other Delightful Ones who take the time to read and who sometimes even comment. May your days be happy and bright. And may all your Christmases be filled with everything you actually want. Here’s hoping you never have to return — except to this space, same time next week.
Amagansett, New York. December 2016