In Britain they call it Boxing Day . No one knows exactly why it is called like that, but the most plausible theory is that it has to do with holiday gifts, handed over in a “Christmas box”. December 26 is also St. Stephen’s Day, an early Christian martyr who was stoned to death.
In our family, as in many, I expect, it is a sort of “day after”, a day of hangover, when you try to recover from Christmas festivities and too much food and drink. Traditionally, in Portugal families get together for supper to celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve and also for lunch on Christmas Day. In our case, I’d have the house full of friends for dinner on Christmas day as well, to celebrate my birthday, and we’d make merry until very late; no wonder the following day the boys and I would sleep all morning and then lazily get up to eat the leftovers of the previous days and sit on the couch. Tradition declared we’d watch one, two or even the three movies of “The Lord of the Rings” during a short afternoon that soon turned into evening, and no Christmas would be complete without this peaceful day, when we simply enjoyed being together.
Some people make it a habit of running to the shopping mall on December 26 to return undesired gifts, and it has become a day of huge crowds, but for us it was never an option; should we have anything to return, we’d wait for another day and enjoy our Boxing Day in peace.
This year everything has been different and the day after Christmas was no exception.
First of all, there was no birthday party like it used to be. I used to celebrate Christmas in Lisbon and have most of my friends come over. Not possible, in a year of small gatherings, no hugs and no kisses. So, no Christmas in Lisbon for us either. We decided to celebrate it at our beach house, with a much smaller group, complying with the authorities’ recommendations. It was nice, but much quieter, and ended so much earlier that the following day there was no hangover, so the usual “Lord of the Rings” programme was delayed to other, non-pandemic years to come – or so we hope.
I lingered in bed as usual, reading the last book by Ken Follett “The evening and the morning”, the prequel to “The Pillars of the Earth”, a story at the time of the Viking invasions of Britain that I strongly recommend. Then my son Afonso announced he was having a barbecue with his friends at his piece of land – I believe he was doing it to celebrate the success of his venture. He has been farming the land, producing biological vegetables with quite some success and a lot of sales! He has worked so hard, and the taste of success is sweet, and he truly deserves it, so I didn’t mind him forsaking our traditional Boxing Day routine. As for Pedro, he told me his Granny (on his dad’s side, with whom I keep a very close relationship) was having lunch by herself, so in no time the three of us were sitting at the table eating the leftovers of Mimi’s traditional roast with apple puree. No “Lord of the Rings” trilogy for us either. The sun and the blue sky outside were inviting, so we went for a walk on the beach instead. As we looked at the sea, the waves gently crashing at our feet, I thought traditions are good, but we must be open to break them sometimes. And enjoy the alternatives, and then maybe come back to our old habits – or not. Life goes on, things change and so do we. No matter what happens, if we do go back to our old December 26 habit or not, those magical days watching “The Lord of the Rings” will always be part of our lives, of our fondest memories together as mother and sons.
When the sun set on December 26 this year, it became very cold. Bitterly cold. I wondered if Afonso was still outside with his friends and called him to know his whereabouts. He sounded very happy and told me not to worry. Yes, they were still outside, in his piece of land, but they had built a big fire and were all around it, keeping warm, singing and laughing.
As I hung up the phone, I could not help smiling. Whatever traditions we keep on December 26, the most important thing is that we go on making the most of the good moments of life. For Afonso this has been a year of much hardship, with the operation on his leg and a painful, hard, long recovery; a year of pandemic and all its uncertainties and limitations, a year during which there were so many restrictions and young people could not get together as they used to, or travel or go to a disco or a bar; but it has also been a year during which he launched his project and has begun to collect the fair reward of his efforts. Thank God, he has fully recovered, and he is making his dream come true. Yesterday, with his friends, around the fire, he celebrated life. Maybe – who knows – creating a new tradition for the day after Christmas.