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.