Happy Boxing Day

Every year in December, sooner or later, I happen to glance at a calendar and notice that it designates December 26th as Boxing Day, usually with “U.K., Canada” in parenthesis after it. But what the heck is Boxing Day, anyway? I’ve always wondered, but have been too lazy to find out up to now.

I’m ashamed to admit that until extremely recently, I assumed it had something to do with the sport of boxing, and I always found that a bit jarring for the day after you’re supposed to be celebrate Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward Men. But I’d just sniff and say, “Well, those crazy Brits, you know…”

It turns out that I got it all wrong.

According to Wikipedia, there are several theories about how this holiday came about, but the most popular one seems to be that it was a time for the upper classes to bestow a box of money or gifts on their servants. The poor servants, of course, had to stick around and serve their masters on Christmas Day, so they were allowed to go home and see their families the day after. The rich people, probably to assuage their mild guilt for having treated these servants abominably all year long, would give them a gift to share with their families, pat them on the head and send them on their merry way, with the expectation that they’d be back to scrubbing by the day after.

I can see why this holiday never caught on in the U.S. While we have pretty much identical and outrageous income inequality, we would never admit this publicly. We certainly wouldn’t celebrate it. All Men here are supposed to be created equal, after all. The fact that we cling to this myth is why we don’t get a handout every December 26th. Yay us.

But Boxing Day has evolved over time. As fewer families had servants, Boxing Day turned into a day where you would relax and spend time with family. I’m told by a Canadian friend that it was also known as a day when you passed on gifts you don’t need to people whom you think could use them. You might slip a discreet envelope of cash to the postman. It also became a time to watch and participate in sports, and a time to raise money for charities.

For a while, it was also a big day for fox hunting in Britain. For the uninitiated, this was dressing up in finery, tearing up the countryside on horseback with your buddies, as a pack of your dogs chased down and wore out a poor unsuspecting fox for its ultimate demise, for no good reason other than that it was tradition. I mean, it’s not like people crave fox meat after all. But fortunately, that sport has been banned. Now people still do the riding bit, but without the killing bit, which must look just as appalling even without the blood.

For an equally gory take on Boxing Day, check out this article, which describes what they used to do in Ireland. There, it was known as St. Stephen’s Day. Good old Steve was apparently stoned to death for believing in Jesus. So what did the Irish decide to do to commemorate this man? A group of boys would go out, stone wrens to death, and then carry their little bodies from house to house asking for money. I’m glad that tradition has fallen out of favor. But much like with fox hunting, these Wren Boys still do the parading about town bit without the crushing in the birdie’s little skulls bit. Go figure.

I wish Boxing Day had ended there. But no. In recent years it has turned into a time to take advantage of sales, with the same kind of horrifying frenzy of consumerism that we Americans indulge in on Black Friday.

This transformation mirrors that of society at large. First, your betters throw you a bone. Then you passively celebrate, perhaps with a macabre twist. Then you trample your neighbors to buy things that you can’t afford and don’t really need. Because Capitalism is just wonderful. ‘Tis the season.

Happy Boxing Day.

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Chinese Robocalls

The phone rings. It’s an unrecognized number, but it’s local, so I kind of feel like I have to pick up. And there it is again. An automated voice, speaking in Mandarin.

I don’t speak Mandarin, or any other Eastern tongue, if the truth be told. I suspect someone is trying to sell me something. I’ll never know.

I wouldn’t even know what number to press to speak to a human being and get taken off this fresh hell of a call list. And if I let it go to voice mail, I’d still have to listen to it eventually. So I simply hang up and block the number.

But tomorrow, someone else will call from another number and subject me to the same torture. This has been going on for months. My block list must be a half mile long.

This begs the question: How in the name of all that’s holy did I get on a call list for Chinese spam? What did I do to deserve this? Have I squashed too many spiders in my lifetime or something?

I kind of feel sorry for the random people who are doing these automated calls. They probably got sold a bogus phone list. They were most likely told they’d get a portion of each sale. But the majority of the people they call don’t speak the language, so they get no sales, while the person who sold them the list profits nicely.

It would be just my luck if it were someone trying to tell me where to pick up my lottery winnings. Meanwhile, here I am gritting my teeth, blocking the number, and praying that someday this particular torture comes to a merciful end.

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I Miss the Saturn Experience

I’ve had a lot of cars in my lifetime, but I’ve only bought one that was brand new. It was a 1998 Saturn SL2. I loved that car. Not only because it got me from point A to point B, but at the time the Saturn folks were embarked on this radical new philosophy in car sales, and I felt like I was on the cutting edge.

Back then, when you bought a Saturn you were joining a family. The list price was the price. There was no haggling, no pressure, no feeling like you might be getting ripped off. I found that extremely refreshing. And when you signed on the dotted line, every employee in the building stopped what they were doing and they came out and cheered. It made you feel like a rock star. Somewhere I still have a picture of me standing next to my salesman at that moment.

And afterward, you were still considered family. They had parties. Bar-b-cues. Classes. You got cards in the mail. People often went to Tennessee to tour the factory. When you took your car in for periodic maintenance, they knew you by name. They welcomed your dogs in the waiting room, and offered you doughnuts and coffee. When they’d finished working on your car, they would wash it and leave candy or a cut flower on your seat.

I was really proud to be a part of that, and I suspect that if Saturn still existed, I’d be a customer for life, even though the cars themselves weren’t sexy or innovative or award winning. I’m sure that had a lot to do with their downfall. But it’s a moot point. Sadly, Saturn is no more.

I don’t know which came first, their financial decline or their philosophical decline, but I did notice that in their last few years, suddenly there were no more flowers, no more parties, and no one took those factory tours anymore. It made me sad.

You just don’t see that level of customer service anywhere nowadays. Yes, all those little extras take time and cost money, but they are priceless. They are unforgettable.

I’m glad that I got to stand at the very pinnacle of the car buying experience, if only for a brief, shining moment. I’m not ashamed to say that when my Saturn was t-boned beyond repair, I shed more than a few tears. I would probably still be driving that vehicle today if it hadn’t been for that.

When I lost that car, I lost a family too. The fact that no other organization seems to be trying to create that kind of family feeling shows how short-sighted corporate America can be.

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Stupid Stats

There’s a commercial that drives me up a wall. It’s for Glad garbage bags and it says, “Bargain bag users go through 60 more bags a year than Glad users.” And it includes a dire image of a bag bursting and scattering disgusting garbage all over the floor.

Seriously? Where did they get that particular statistic? First of all, I only use one garbage bag a week, bargain or no bargain. For me to burst 60 bags, I’d have to have done it every single week, and then some. I think I’d remember that. I also think that if I knew someone who had that extreme experience, he or she would be talking about it. But not a gripe out of anyone I know.

And then there’s the assumption that someone who did constantly have their garbage strewn all over their foyer would stupidly continue to use that particular product, over and over and over again, 60 times a year. That’s insulting. I mean, yes, we did re-elect Bush twice, but I’d like to think that the American consuming public is a little more savvy than that.

Whenever I hear a suspicious statistic like this, one that couldn’t possibly have been obtained with any degree of accuracy, I get annoyed. I don’t like being lied to. And it’s so unnecessary. Glad has a good reputation for putting out a quality product. They’ve been in business since 1963. They shouldn’t have to resort to dirty advertising tricks. Sorry Glad, don’t get mad, but this commercial seems a little pathetic and desperate to me. Give your customers a little credit.

That’s the end of my trash talking for today.

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[Image credit: corvallisadvocate.com]