Put Up Your Dukes, It’s Boxing Day
So today is Boxing Day, the day when families all over the Commonwealth test their strength, agility, endurance, and familial ties in ceremonial pugilistic displays of bare-knuckle boxing. I had occasion to observe such festivities first hand a few years ago in Canada, where the natives made great sport of punishing one another with fist, elbow, and knee. Though, as a foreigner, I was myself forbidden to participate in the actual act of fighting, I was allowed a rather intimate view of the proceedings. Everything from the breakfast of cold meats and shellfish left over from the Christmas feast of the night before, the rubdown and calisthenics and practice sparing that lasted much of the afternoon, to the brutal bouts themselves and the post fight ablutions and apologetic bandaging. I witnessed brother against brother, father against son, mother against daughter, and not a fair share of grandparents against other elders evaluated as their equals in size and strength. I’ll admit now to my jealousy of the fine display, for the enviable traditions of Boxing Day make for a vigorous, manly holiday; one affirming not only the essential bonds of family, but also the importance of deep tissue massage.
Actually — and I can admit this now — as a kid I did have some notions that Boxing Day had pugilistic overtones. It certainly had a faintly exotic and unexplained quality about it, just sitting there on the calendar with no explanation. Later I heard some flimsy explanations of the holiday — the ‘boxing’ was from the throwing away of Christmas wrappers, or the rush to return boxes of unwanted gifts. Turns out, according to snopes, that the exact origin of the name is a bit of a mystery, but the holiday itself is a celebration of St. Stephen’s Day, and was about giving to those less fortunate (presumably boxes of food and sundries) .
Which sounds great, but there is a slight twist as well. The holiday wasn’t purely just about charity, but had a hint of the Roman Saturnalia about it with it’s reversal of roles. Seems it was about class, too, with a whiff of noblesse oblige in the proceedings — on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day peers exchanged gifts, but Boxing Day was when the upper class gave to those beneath their station. A fine distinction, but at one time an important one, and perhaps a nuance that would be lost on many a modern examining the holiday as it once was.
Which, in a sort of a round about way, goes back to a few of the things that were raised this week in terms of authenticity in fantasy literature. There really are an enormous amount of things those of us with modern sensibilities do not take into account when looking at fantasy societies modeled more closely on the traditional. Roles of religion, divisions of class, assumptions of race — so many fundamental truths that are usually unquestioned and unexamined in our every day life, whether that is the life of today or of a thousand years ago. But things are very different now, we think differently, and to truly evoke a convincing fantasy world writers must treat even the simplest of assumptions with care.
Anyway, I’ve managed to link a curious historical artifact very tenuously to fantasy fiction, but really I just wanted to pun on Boxing Day. Originally I intended to talk about Robert E. Howard’s boxing stories, but that clever plan of mine was not conceived in time enough to order the book. So instead I went with a facetious, meandering, and somewhat lazy post with only the slimmest of ties to any one topic which, when I think about it, is pretty much how I feel the day after Christmas, anyway.
I’m off to look at my new books — Happy Holidays to our Black Gate readers and my fellow bloggers, and I’ll see you all next year.
BILL WARD is a genre writer, editor, and blogger wanted across the Outer Colonies for crimes against the written word. His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, as well as gaming supplements and websites. He is a Contributing Editor and reviewer for Black Gate Magazine, and 423rd in line for the throne of Lost Lemuria. Read more at BILL’s blog, DEEP DOWN GENRE HOUND.
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An enjoyable meandering, nonetheless.
To me, some kind of absolute objective historical authenticity is not really of primary importance in fantasy fiction. We aren’t writing academic treatises on various periods in human history, so much as we are telling stories which resonate as a kind of pseudo-mythology (if not outright mythology). Sure, they need to have some level of authenticity in order to pass the general public’s Hemingway “bullsh** detector,” but beyond that, the story and the characters are what’s important.
What people read reflects the tastes and understanding of their times. I wouldn’t want to see a great story ruined merely to satisfy somebody’s idea about what is more “accurate.” I don’t feel like we’re being graded for that. Shakespeare was liberally inaccurate even with historical facts, and certainly anglicized every tale he wrote about, in settings from Denmark to ancient Rome. Not to mention all the anachronisms. And yet he’s achieved a kind of literary immortality most of us could never dream of. Should we tell people to stop producing those plays, and put those folio editions down, because *gasp* they didn’t really have cannons during the times in which Macbeth is set?
As you say, things are very different now. You put it beautifully, that writers must treat their assumptions with care, and I feel that that cuts both ways, from authenticity to considering the reader who is going to pick up the story and read through it.
There, now I’ve meandered too. Happy Boxing Day!
Hm… there’s a story in here somewhere, about a society where participation in a solstice festival has to be paid for by fighting, either before or after the festival. Maybe the ritual premise is that the blood shed feeds the failing sun.
Keep up the meandering! That’s where real thinking starts, I think.
As you noted, David, the point of Bill’s post isn’t about absolute objective historical accuracy, which I don’t think anyone is demanding of what is, after all, fiction, but rather how even the mundane can play a role in creating a sense of fictional authenticity.
Given the Boxing Day theme, it’s interesting to note how few holidays are celebrated in SF/F literature. The medieval period was filled with the fests of one saint or another while the number of obscure holidays celebrated in Europe during the summer today would probably shock the average American. It seems like everything shuts down here every other Thursday throughout June and July.
And yet, one can read through multiple genre series without ever encountering a single character celebrating a holiday of any kind, patriotic or religious. It’s the lack of any holiday at all that would make a fantasy world feel less credible and less convincingly human, not the fact that no one happens to celebrate St. Stephen’s Day there.
I think as far as many fantasies get is to celebrate a sort of generic ‘harvest day,’ or possibly just a Christmas clone.
Glad to see my meander is sparking discussion.