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Since the etymology of the title “Boxing Day” is unknown, might I suggest the name was coined to describe the violent behavior of the masses returning Christmas gifts and zeroing in on year-end clearance sales? “Elbowing Day” might better cover it. Whatever you call it, the day after Christmas has become a new shopping holiday, along the lines of Black Friday. But unlike Black Friday, today has a twist. Not only are there deals to be had, but there is also the chance to turn unwanted gifts into something you actually want – which sounds great but all too often leads to bitter disappointment because you run the risk of learning how cheap your relatives are. Every year, my relatives learn I buy gifts on clearance with 20% off coupons. “You’re offering me a $12.50 gift card for a 79-piece flatware set with a retail price of $129.99?” No wonder people feel like boxing.
In the Netherlands today is Tweede Kerst, Second Christmas, a holiday with no religious meaning whatsoever, a day simply stuck on the national calendar to make sure no one has to go to work. The Dutch don’t use today to descend on stores in a consumptive fury like we do – it’s a day off, and that goes for retail workers, too. Not us. It’s a big day for retailers because today is a shopping holiday.
That’s right, a shopping holiday. I used the term in each paragraph above. Did you notice? What do you make of that term?
The week before Thanksgiving I heard a woman on TV say, “The holidays come so fast now. First there is Thanksgiving, then Black Friday, then a whole bunch of other holidays.” I screamed “Black Friday is not a holiday” at the TV, but it didn’t do any good. People believe these are holidays. We may not know the etymology of Boxing Day, but we do know the etymology of “holiday,” from “Holy Day,” of course. Shopping is an odd response to the holy and “shopping holiday” ought to strike our ears as an oxymoronic misuse of language. But in our culture it doesn’t sound vile or strange. It sounds normal. We live to consume. Why not set aside special days to do more of it?
I’m working on some sermons for January, and the passage for January 29 is Mark 1:21-28. It’s the story of Jesus encountering a demon-possessed man in the synagogue at Capernaum. I plan to begin the sermon with this line, “Anyone who does not think the demonic is real wasn’t paying attention to the mobs of people who trampled each other and tore the doors off of stores when the new Nike Air Jordan basketball shoes went on sale a few days before Christmas.” Something’s wrong when people are trampled in a rush to buy shoes. It’s demonic. But the devil has gotten smarter over the centuries. Instead of violent cases of possession, we’re now undone by the possession of our possessions and the constant need to accumulate more.
Last Christmas my daughter’s German boyfriend was visiting us for the holidays. A day or so after Christmas a commercial came on TV for a men’s clothing store offering “Buy 1, Get 2 Free” on suits along with free dress shirts and silk ties thrown in. My daughter’s boyfriend’s jaw went slack and he said, “How can they do this? How can they stay in business?” After we tried to explain the nuances of retail mark-ups he said, “Can I go? Will you please take me there?”
We never went. But this year the store is offering the same deal and I’ll be there. Last year I didn’t need the suits, this year I do, and I can’t beat that deal. I’ll be venturing out on Boxing Day, fighting the crowds, looking down condescendingly on those conspicuous consumers clogging the shopping malls while simple old me, with nothing but the purest of motives, just tries to get a good deal on some nice clothes.
Yes, I’ll be out shopping on Boxing Day. I’ve got to go get more stuff. I know I spent all day yesterday getting stuff, but I need more. I’m addicted. Plus, going out beats what I’d be doing if I stayed home. I’d be eating. There is so much food in my house this week – Christmas cookies and peppermint bark and banket and jars of nuts and five kinds of candy and on and on. We trade Christmas treats with our neighbors and show our love by providing the means to give ourselves coronaries. By the end of Christmas Day I’m close to being in a sugar-induced coma. I’m virtually catatonic from consumption. Here’s the cure — I will go shopping today to walk it off. I can’t stop myself.