The Good Life

Positive psychology and what makes life worth living.

Boxing Day

Historically, Boxing Day entails giving to others.

St. Stephen

I sit for many hours per day at my desk in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA, above which is posted a large monthly calendar.

Ever since December 1, when I last flipped the calendar, I have been looking at the annotation for December 26 - Boxing Day - a holiday about which I have vaguely known for years but never took the time to investigate carefully. To any readers from the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or other past and present members of the British Commonwealth, I apologize, because you are well familiar with this holiday, which your nations have long observed. This blog entry is for readers from the rest of the world.

Today I finally learned about Boxing Day, and I discovered that it had nothing to do with pugilism but at least historically with literal boxes. Bless you Wikipedia, and I liked what I learned about the spirit of the holiday vis-à-vis positive psychology.

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In Europe, Boxing Day dates to at least the Middle Ages and perhaps much earlier. The traditional celebration entails giving money and other gifts to those who are poor or those who provide services. The word "boxing" is unclear, but it may refer to churches opening their collection boxes to the poor on December 26; to a tradition of churches placing metal boxes outside for donations for the December 26 Feast of St. Stephen*; to a British tradition of landowners giving their servants December 26 off as a holiday and a box of gifts and food to take with them; and/or to a Victorian tradition of tradesmen receiving boxes of goods on December 26 to insure service throughout the coming year. Regardless, Boxing Day entails giving to others, which we know makes the givers happy and - we can only hope - the recipients.

However, in more recent years, Boxing Day has also become a huge shopping day in the British Commonwealth, akin to Black Friday** in the United States. Sigh.

But maybe the shopping on Boxing Day is done for other people, especially the less fortunate, which would of course be in the traditional spirit of the holiday.

Anyway, I resolve that on December 26, I will take stock of my own resources, count my blessings, and try and do some good for the world. Maybe I can put the good in a box.

Other people matter. At least once a year, try and matter to other people.

*In Ireland, Boxing Day is also known as St. Stephen's Day, named after the first Christian martyr, who is celebrated for his care of widows and the poor.

**In the United States, Black Friday is the day after our Thanksgiving holiday and marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season. Stores may open as early as 4:00 AM, and it may be the busiest shopping day of the year in the United States. The phrase "Black Friday" was first used in Philadelphia to refer to the disruptive traffic that occurred on the day after Thanksgiving. More recently, it refers to the wish and occasionally the fact that the day after Thanksgiving is the day on which retailers finally turn a profit and get into the black.

Christopher Peterson was professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.


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