Today is Boxing Day in Australia, the day after Christmas Day. I am tidying and cleaning the house after the mayhem of the last couple of weeks leading up to Christmas. Somehow at this time of the year housework just doesn’t seem as important and with the amount of social stuff going on it’s pretty hard to keep on top of it anyway. I love this time of the year because I love festivity, watching people come together and for the proclamations of peace and joy. But I also dislike this time because of the perceived need for mass consumerism and blatant overindulgence. With Christmas decorations going up in stores in September, it’s pretty hard to ignore it.
When I was a kid I thought that the meaning behind Boxing Day was that it was the day when you put away all the Christmas decorations and presents and boxed them up. Christmas was officially over and it was time to put things back the way they were before. I decided to do some research on the subject. The exact meaning behind the term “boxing” is unclear but there are possible explanations which do make sense. I found several theories originating in parts of Europe and the United Kingdom and they mostly have the same theme, which was to give to those who have less. In the late Roman/Early Christian era there was a custom to place metal boxes outside churches for which to collect special offerings. In Britain it was custom for tradesmen to collect “Christmas boxes” of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas for good service throughout the year. The same went for servants who would also be given a box to take home containing gifts, food and money.
It seems the spirit of Boxing Day has been lost as I’m not sure anyone even stops to think of much else other than recovering from the excesses of Christmas Day. That and the sales that Boxing Day has become famous for in Australia (like the Black Friday sales in the USA). I think how in years past I would rush off to the local Westfield early morning Boxing Day to snag a bargain. Rather than giving things away to the poor I would spend my money needlessly just because it was fun or because other people were doing it. In recent years I continued to go and didn’t buy much but I still felt the need to be a part of it all. This year I don’t want to go and won’t. I will be making a donation to a charity instead. I already feel we have more than enough in our home, the last thing I want to be doing is buying stuff I don’t need. Besides, I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than face Warringah Mall on any given day let alone today.
In addition to avoiding the Boxing Day sales, this year my husband and I made the conscious decision to keep Christmas modest. We already practice simple living and sustainability and each year endeavour to work out ways of furthering this philosophy and our desire for less. We are far from model environmentalists (we own two cars, eat meat and shop at Aldi) but we do try to make a difference where ever we can. For example we buy second hand, donate to charity, mend things when they break, don’t have the latest iPhone. It’s interesting to see the process evolve and each year we take things to another level. We wanted to know what would happen if this year we didn’t do things at Christmas we normally would such as buying too much food, eating to excess and drinking expensive champagne.
I think back to one particular Christmas Day with my family twelve years ago where in our usual fashion we ate and drank way too much. We felt so sick that we had to lie down after Christmas lunch to recover from our self-induced food comas. I remember this Christmas particularly well because I had been sending and receiving text messages from my would-be husband. I was in Melbourne and he was celebrating Christmas with his family in Sydney. He too had over eaten and was feeling the effects of it. When I think about it now I feel ashamed that I felt the need to eat so much but I grew up in a family where food was a central focus in our lives and this just felt normal. I thought everyone celebrated Christmas this way.
Of course not everyone celebrates Christmas like this. Some people have small Christmas celebrations, some have large, some don’t have them at all. Some because they want to, some because they have no choice. Poverty exists everywhere which is why food wastage such a terrible thing. On Christmas Eve this year the Sydney Morning Herald published a story alerting the Australian public to the alarming amount of food wastage in this country, suggesting people take excess food to charities and shelters this Christmas. Foodwise Australia have a great website with some incredibly eye opening material depicting the level of food wasted. Do take a look, it’s frightening. Take a moment to think about the trail of food wastage starting with the farmers who work the land, the water for irrigation, the fuel for transport, the staff who stock the supermarket shelves, the garbage disposal services, the landfill space required for the wasted food and the impact on the environment from such practices. Just think of all the people who could have been fed.
But getting back to my own Christmas, we had a simple dinner with my family and a neighbour on Christmas Eve and a lunch with my husband’s family on Christmas Day. There wasn’t an excessive amount of food but there was plenty, more than enough. Instead of expensive French champagne we drank moderately priced Australian sparkling. We didn’t exchange gifts because years ago we agreed it was unnecessary (though the kids still get small gifts). We laughed, talked and enjoyed each others company. As for the original reason for the exercise, wanting to know what would happen if we had a model Christmas? What happened is that we didn’t feel sick, we weren’t drained financially and we won’t be throwing food away. Did we feel at all as though we missed out on anything? No way, and as a bonus we haven’t gained any weight.
Now that’s something to celebrate!
Words by Tanya Zouev.
Footnote: this year I’m making a donation to Ozharvest.