As one who has more fun at the dentist than the shopping mall, it will come as no surprise that you won’t be seeing me among the throng looking for bargains on Boxing Day. But while the day has become synonymous with the post-Christmas consumer rush, when I was younger it was one of the days I looked forward to most during the holiday season.
Don’t get me wrong, growing up I had great Christmases full of family, presents, food and fun, but Boxing Day was a whole different tradition.
I don’t remember how old I was when it started, but sometime during elementary school the mother of one of my best friends decided to invite some of the neighbourhood families over for dinner. In part, it allowed her to get some of her leftovers eaten up (and given the number of growing boys at the table, we’d eat everything except the napkins) but she always worked hard to prepare many other tasty treats specially for the event.
There always seemed to be a special magic about that evening. Perhaps it was because we’d all spent the previous day with our families and this was the first real time we got to spend with our friends. In the early years we’d head up to my friend’s room and play board games, talk and get into the sort of minor mischief that boys of that age do. Most famously (or perhaps infamously) we once choreographed a lip-synch routine to the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” that gave everyone in the house a good laugh.
As we moved into our teens we spent a lot more time talking and goofing around than we did disco dancing. It was also a time for reconnecting as the hosts had moved to a different neighbourhood and their son was at a different school. We still hung out outside of Boxing Day, but not being able to see each other every day meant we had a lot of interesting and exciting things to talk about.
When I was away at university in Nova Scotia and later when I was working in Alberta, Boxing Day would often be the only time I would see my oldest friends. It was good to reconnect and we started the tradition of giving each other humorous gifts, including Xena: Warrior Princess fridge magnets and a set of marzipan candles that were regifted year after year between the group of us. But as time marched on, some of the ease of friendship that we once had started to slip away. The pauses in conversation were longer, the topics of common interest became fewer and fewer and the whole evening wasn’t as magical for me as it once was. (The good news is that once I moved back to Ontario we reconnected and shared lots more good times together.)
Then one year the tradition ended. With all the wives, husbands and children, what had begun as a party of just over a dozen had grown to the point where you’d almost need a banquet hall to fit us and a catering company to feed us. (Those hungry boys may have gotten older, but are no less hungry in their late 30s.)
While this tradition has faded into history I choose not to focus on what is gone, but what it gave me — the happy memories, the fantastic food and a way to stay connected with those with whom I shared so much of my young life.
— Gordon Cameron is Group Managing Editor for Hamilton Community News.