I like shopping, I like sales and, occasionally, I even like being in a crowded room full of rowdy people, but why anyone thought to combine all three into a single holiday is beyond me.
After mass murder and the elliptical trainer, Boxing Day shopping is the most evil invention in human history. It is a modern form of torture - one that I'm certain would have been far more effective at Guantanamo Bay than waterboarding. Think about it: One hour spent trying on ill-fitting skirt suits in Zara while the seething hordes clamour over the cashmere display and I guarantee you that even the most hardened al-Qaeda operative would lose his resolve. "Okay, okay!" he'd cry, breaking down in the fluorescent-lit change room after being told off by an irritable shop girl for having more items than his tag permitted. "Osama lives in a cave on the Afghan-Pakistani border, two foothills north of the camel farm. Just please don't make me look for matching accessories."
Sartre said that "Hell is other people," but what he should have said was: "Hell is other people discount shopping." And that, my friends, is what Boxing Day is all about.
It wasn't always thus. Back in the last century, when I was a child, Boxing Day was a time for doing, well, nothing. We'd wake up the morning after Christmas and pad downstairs in our pyjamas, careful not to wake the hungover grownups slumbering all over the house. Then we'd fix ourselves a delicious breakfast of eggnog, Turtles and leftover cranberry sauce and watch The Wizard of Oz six times in a row, marveling glumly at the fact that it would be a whole 364 more sleeps until Christmas. Eventually my mother would appear in a velour house dress and remind us to play with the new toys we'd left neglected under the tree, since "Santa spent a lot of money on those, you know." Then she'd light a cigarette, stare at the microwave our father gave her and feel desperately misunderstood.
All things considered, it was a wonderful time of year and much more authentically human than the frenzied consumer orgy it has become.
The notable holdouts in this orgy are, of course, Atlantic Canadians, who don't mark Boxing Day by shopping till they drop - and who, you may have noticed, are just a heck of a lot nicer. New Brunswick, for instance, actually has a Days of Rest Act prohibiting retailers as well as cinemas, sports venues, art or culture venues, restaurants, hotels and gas stations from opening on Boxing Day. Now that's a province I can get behind, a province that takes its laziness seriously. While the rest of the country is busy elbowing each other out of the way in pursuit of discounted tat, New Brunswickers are drinking tea, uploading photos onto Facebook and kicking their children outside to play in the snow. You've got to admire that upstanding Maritime traditionalism. Too bad most of the rest of us refuse to follow suit.
I know, I know, we're in a recession, spending is good. If people stopped shopping, we would have a deflationary spiral followed by plummeting aggregate demand; then the Dow index would go all screwy, causing Amanda Lang to furrow her brow during her evening chat with Peter Mansbridge on The National . And that, we know, is not good. Not good at all.
But it seems perverse to choose Dec. 26 of all days to gorge ourselves on consumer goods after two solid months of non-stop gift-buying mania.
Are we such gluttons for punishment that we want to treat ourselves to a few more hours of freezing lineups and irate salespeople? Maybe it's our chance to judge how much Christmas weight we've put on in a three-way department store mirror? I honestly don't get it.
The truth is, if we really cared about Christmas spirit and the tradition of giving, hitting Future Shop for a cheap plasma is the last thing we'd be doing on Boxing Day. More than Christmas itself, today is a holiday about generosity. Originally named for the boxes of food and gifts that rich English landowners took to the poor serfs who worked on their properties, Boxing Day began as a day to give back to labouring people and the less fortunate. True, Boxing Day long ago ceased to be a charitable holiday per se, but its current incarnation seems depressingly ironic.
I'm not saying we should all spend the day after Christmas distributing blankets to the homeless (actually we should, but that's not my point), just that it might be nice to not make a total mockery of what was once a fine philanthropic tradition.
So here's my dictum for today: Don't go to the mall. Instead, stay home and make yourself a turkey sandwich. Read the paper. Bicker with your mother-in-law. This Boxing Day, pretend you're in New Brunswick.