The gift of Boxing Day - Steeped in tradition or just another holiday?
It's Boxing Day - a day many Jamaicans islandwide will be spending with family and friends. Beaches will be packed, as will cinemas, churches and the recreational spaces that are open for the holiday.
But how many people know or care about the meaning behind this day? Is it anything more than an opportunity to party, or rest from the excitement of Christmas day?
There are competing stories behind the origin of Boxing Day. One theory is that Boxing Day celebrations began in England in the 1830s, on the first week-day after Christmas, observed as a holiday on which postmen, handymen and other blue collar workers expected to receive a 'Christmas-box' with gifts as a thank you for their work throughout the year. Others say the term comes from the English tradition, where food from the annual Christmas feast was shared, in boxes, with the poor.
Fae Ellington, media personality and lecturer at the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication, University of the West Indies, believes though Boxing Day might not be as highly anticipated as other holidays in Jamaica, the day is still viewed as a time for family.
“I don’t know if it holds any specific significance for Jamaicans, especially in recent times. What I do know is that people look forward to it and it is seen as a carry-over from Christmas,” she said.
“It’s a day for the family, especially those family members who you didn’t get the chance to see on Christmas day. Pantomime is also a historical event in addition to other plays that are usually opened on Boxing Day,” she said.
In reflecting on her own experience, she indicated that the day has always been one for family.
“For me, growing up, it was a day to visit extended family. Travelling to the country is also high on the agenda for many persons,” Ellington said.
For Herbie Miller, director/curator at the Jamaica Music Museum, Institute of Jamaica, though lots of activities usually take place on the day, for many Jamaicans Boxing Day is little more than an extra holiday.
“Jamaicans just love holiday,” he said with a chuckle.
“When I was growing up, it meant seeing family members but as I got older, for me, I always looked forward to going to a dance. There was always some music session happening or party somewhere. It was that extra day to laugh and chat with friends and indulge in live performances. For the children it’s a time to go to every store, shop and partake in lots of activities,” Miller told The Gleaner.
He added: “Personally, I don’t think the day signifies anything in particular for Jamaicans unless it’s linked to a family event. It’s not a Good Friday or Independence (holidays) but you still feel the festive feeling in the air and it’s just that additional day, where, after you have indulged in the Christmas day festivities, you don’t have to worry about rushing back to work.”
In making reference to this year’s Pantomime, veteran journalist, and chairman of the Little Theatre Movement, Barbara Gloudon indicated that Boxing Day holds a special place in her heart.
Opportunity to relax
According to Gloudon, the premiere event which opens annually on December 26 offers Jamaicans an opportunity to relax and enjoy themselves.
“Boxing Day came from England where left-overs from the Christmas feast was given to the poor and actually when the Pantomime came to Jamaica, we were still an English colony. The first Pantomime to be done was entitled ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’. Thereafter there were titles of other fairy tales,” she explained.
“Some persons feel it’s just another day but I think for persons who are dedicated and have kept the spirit alive, it holds an important part of our Christmas tradition because it gives people an opportunity to do something fun with the family,” Gloudon said.
The playwright also stressed the value that is placed on the less fortunate in preparation for the Pantomime.
“As we plan for the event we try to include orphanages and the less fortunate. We want to make sure that the working class is not excluded. Another important point is that the youths have an interest; you can rest assured that you will learn something,” she said.
“We already have bookings from schools, as far as Savanna- la- Mar. Various schools and agencies in St Thomas always support the event as well. I believe it’s an important day and that there is some significance for Jamaicans."