Yeah, yeah, I know it’s odd to be writing about Boxing Day when we’re not even out of Advent yet. But there’s a reason for it.
There have been a lot of reports over recent weeks about levels of poverty in Britain, something I’d imagine is replicated in other western nations. As we count down to Christmas, this inequality is biting even deeper; winter has truly kicked in, and if you’re worried about choosing between eating or heating, then an inability to buy gifts may well be adding additional levels of shame to an already difficult situation. Then shops close on the evening of the 24th and food poverty, fuel poverty, hygiene poverty, all of kinds of poverty are compounded even as we head into a celebration of joy and peace and hope.
Boxing Day – the Feast of St. Stephen – is traditionally a time of helping those who’ve fallen on hard times, responding to, if only for a day, the inequality rife across society. So my modest proposal is this: that we commemorate the Season of St. Stephen. This is, after all, a man who enters the biblical narrative to make sure that starving widows are getting fed in the face of unfair distribution of resources. And in the lead up to Christmas, as we also remember Stephen’s saintly counterpart Nicholas, maybe we add toys to those resources.
I’m aware that I’m being gimmicky here – helping each other should be as natural as breathing, not something reserved for special occasions. But most of the time it’s not that natural – in my busyness and my privilege I need to remember food banks and shelters and soup kitchens, remember those who are dreading Christmas because they don’t have food or heating or shower gel or tampons or presents. To my shame, people around me become invisible. To our society’s shame, people around us are condemned by media and politicians.
What sort of Christmas are we celebrating?
This is where we can think about buying an extra can of beans, an extra bag of groceries, a washbag, a tin of cat food, a box of Lego, socks or scarves or sleeping bags. Maybe we can think about giving our time, our money, our thoughts and prayers. Maybe we give our support and our love and our presence to those who are already serving in this way. Maybe we can be changed; I know I need to.
And when we do that, Boxing Day can be the start of “What next?” rather than the end of our Christmas charity.