Stille Tag, Eating Ballots and Uncle Edgar

A Few Crea­tures Stir­ring, but Not Many
Yes­ter­day was a very qui­et day indeed. We took a walk along False Creek and saw a few dog-walk­ers, jog­gers and bicy­clists, but as we returned via Broad­way, the only places open were the Asian restau­rants, some of which were doing a brisk busi­ness.

Today, how­ev­er, is Box­ing Day (always the day after Christ­mas), a hol­i­day that I only got to cel­e­brate when I lived in Eng­land. Accord­ing to Wikipedia:

There is great dis­pute over the true ori­gins of Box­ing Day. The more com­mon sto­ries include:

  • Cen­turies ago, mer­chants would present their ser­vants food and fruits as a form of Yule­tide tip. Nat­u­ral­ly, the gifts of food and fruit were packed in box­es, hence the term “Box­ing Day”.
  • In feu­dal times, Christ­mas was a rea­son for a gath­er­ing of extend­ed fam­i­lies. All the serfs would gath­er their fam­i­lies in the manor of their lord, which makes it eas­i­er for the lord of the estate to hand out annu­al stipends to the serfs. After all the Christ­mas par­ties on Decem­ber 25, the lord of the estate would give prac­ti­cal goods such as cloth, grains, and tools to the serfs who lived on his land. Each fam­i­ly would get a box full of such goods the day after Christ­mas. Under this expla­na­tion, there was noth­ing vol­un­tary about this trans­ac­tion; the lord of the manor was oblig­at­ed to sup­ply these goods. Because of the box­es being giv­en out, the day was called Box­ing Day.
  • In Britain many years ago, it was com­mon prac­tice for the ser­vants to car­ry box­es to their employ­ers when they arrive for their day’s work on the day after Christ­mas (26 Decem­ber). Their employ­ers would then put coins in the box­es as spe­cial end-of-year gifts. This can be com­pared with the mod­ern day con­cept of Christ­mas bonus­es. The ser­vants car­ried box­es for the coins, hence the name Box­ing Day.
  • In church­es, it was tra­di­tion to open the church’s dona­tion box on Christ­mas day, and the mon­ey in the dona­tion box were to be dis­trib­uted to the poor­er or low­er class cit­i­zens on the next day. In this case, the “box” in “Box­ing Day” comes from that one gigan­tic lock­box in which the dona­tions were left.
  • In Britain because many ser­vants had to work for their employ­ers on Christ­mas day they would instead open their presents (ie. box­es) the next day, which there­fore became known as box­ing day.

In fact, the way I heard it, because it was the ser­vants’ day off, meals would be a ‘box lunch’ or some­thing like that. Many of these sto­ries fol­low the same basic idea of giv­ing the work­ing class­es a spe­cial hol­i­day of their own, which has since many on the Left to decry the hol­i­day as fur­ther per­pet­u­a­tion of the sep­a­ra­tion of the social class­es (some­one had to serve the Christ­mas feast, so the ser­vants could­n’t have that day off, there­fore they had their own hol­i­day while the rich folks slept in and ate left­overs). It was inter­est­ing to see that Granville Mar­ket was open Christ­mas Eve, but was closed both Christ­mas Day and Box­ing Day, which lent fur­ther cre­dence to the ‘give The Help a day off’ expla­na­tion.

In the Putting Your Bal­lot Where Your Mouth Is Depart­ment

Saw a strange sto­ry about Cal­gary in Boing­bo­ing about eat­ing elec­tion bal­lots. Sure enough, it’s a kind of protest by the right-wing peo­ple there that there aren’t any choic­es that they approve of in the elec­tion (I’m going to assume that Steven Harp­er is not Con­ser­v­a­tive enough for them, since the protest is by fol­low­ers of Stock­well Day, who lost his post to Harp­er in 2002).

Good-bye to Uncle Edgar

We just got a phone call that Edgar John­ston, Pam’s Uncle on her father’s side of the fam­i­ly, died at 1 AM this morn­ing. Uncle Edgar, along with Aunt Mary and Uncle Jim, became what the rest of the fam­i­ly referred to as ‘The Trav­el­ing Trio’, when we found out that they had set off from Long Island, New York to Quin­cy, Mass­a­chu­setts via train, fer­ry, anoth­er train and final­ly the sub­way, with­out telling any­one, so that they could go on an explorato­ry trip to Quin­cy, Mass, where Mary and Edgar had pre­vi­ous­ly lived before sell­ing their house and mov­ing in with Jim in Long Island. They had made plans for months, and we sus­pect that Jim went along with the whole expe­di­tion because he had lost his dri­ver’s license (after 4 acci­dents in the peri­od of a month or so) and thought that the State of Mass­a­chu­setts would give him a license if New York state would not. Their plan was to buy two small hous­es and ‘…live next door to each oth­er’. We found out about all of this lat­er but ini­tial­ly we got a call from a hos­pi­tal in Quin­cy, at about 4 AM. The three of them had been found, exhaust­ed and con­fused, in the Boston sub­way a few hours ear­li­er. It was a pret­ty remark­able inci­dent, and if one of them had­n’t had Pam’s broth­er’s busi­ness card in their wal­let, they might very well have dis­ap­peared into the unseen world of the home­less in Boston. We scram­bled to get them tak­en care of, and Pam and her broth­er became legal guardians of all of them, as they entered a Nurs­ing Home in Wey­mouth, a near­by town. Uncle Jim died in Jan­u­ary before we moved here, and now with Edgar’s death at the age of 93, the sole mem­ber of the three trav­el­ers is Mary, who is most­ly blind and no longer coher­ent.
When­ev­er we vis­it­ed Aunt Mary and Uncle Edgar in Quin­cy, she was the flam­boy­ant and styl­ish lady, and he was the absent-mind­ed pro­fes­sor. He was obsessed with his time spent in the army dur­ing World War II and as time passed he retreat­ed more and more into that peri­od. I tried to find out why these events in his life seemed to over­shad­ow every­thing that had come before or since, but he had no expla­na­tion oth­er than that was the way he felt. The last time we saw him, he had revert­ed to the state of an infant, per­ma­nent­ly reclined, with soft hands and a vacant stare. He had been this way for months before then and con­tin­ued liv­ing that way for a year, at least, until he sim­ply stopped eat­ing a few days ago. The phrase from Shake­speare’s As You Like It about “All the world’s a stage”, etc. came to my mind — the bit at the end:

Last scene of all,
That ends this strange event­ful his­to­ry,
Is sec­ond child­ish­ness and mere obliv­ion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans every­thing.

I’m glad that Edgar final­ly made his exit, because he spent far too much time in that last scene.

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