Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath’ring winter fuel
“Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know’st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”
“Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither.”
Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather….
I hope that all who celebrate it passed a happy Christmas holiday yesterday. For some, the holiday goes on, for today is Boxing Day. Falling on December 26, Boxing Day, also called St. Stephens’s Day, is mostly a Commonwealth holiday. I became familiar with it via my British Virgin Islands in-laws. On this day, it is said, the poor received the contents of church poor boxes, collections for the poor, and the servants of great houses, who often had to work on Christmas day, received gift boxes from their masters.
While Christmas Day is a solemn time for many, Boxing Day is often more raucously festive, filled with home visiting, parties, horse races and other sporting events. My fondest memory of Boxing Day was on a hot, sunny day in 2006 in Tortola, British Virgin Islands when my family and I gathered at the home of my late beloved father-in-law, Ta. When we arrived, inside the small house where Ta had been born early in the last century were several members of his church who had come to visit, laugh and pray with him. As his parlor was small, we stayed out on the porch, overlooking the seemingly endless bay.
To accompany the talk and prayers inside, we began singing Christmas carols and hymns. Some of the church people inside joined in, their voices merging with ours through the open, unscreened door that led from the porch to the darkened, windowless front room where Ta sat, his face etched with joy. He spoke but little that day, uncharacteristic for him. Ta, like Stephen for whom this day is also named, was a man with an active tongue and wit.
Also like Stephen, Ta was a man of grace, wisdom, courage, intelligence, and perhaps above all, justice. Over his long and blessed life, Ta told many stories and jokes, and in the jokes lay the truth, sometimes told straight, sometimes told sideways until it could be told straight. Ta was a lion, of the breed about which abolitionist Wendell Phillips wrote in a now famous letter to Frederick Douglass: “You remember the old fable of 'The Man and the Lion,' where the lion complained that he should not be so misrepresented 'when the lions wrote history.' I am glad the time has come when the 'lions write history.'”
The wind blew gently and strongly that Boxing Day, and we sang on. From time to time we looked out at the vast ocean beyond the bay, dreaming of truth, dreaming of history, and the dream was life and life was the dream.
Happy Boxing Day to one and all! Dream well.