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December 26th, 2009

“Exchanging” is not the same as “giving.”

Just in case you forgot, consider this your reminder.  Today (December 26) is Boxing Day.  Most Americans will ignore it.

Those who can trace their recent history to Great Britain or cultures with British influence, however, know about Boxing Day.  Or do they?

Brits know that Boxing Day has nothing to do with twelve rounds in a ring with the gloves on.  Nor does it have anything to do with putting away the stack of department store gift boxes for reuse in 2010.

Unfortunately, however, Boxing Day even in England has lost its meaning.  Like so many other holidays, it has become commercialized.  Boxing Day is  the first shopping day after Christmas.  In British cultures, Boxing Day is like Black Friday in America – the highest-volume retail sales day of the year.  Stores open at the crack of dawn so that shoppers can use the holiday to redeem their gift cards, exchange their misfit clothing, and buy for themselves what family and friends forgot.

Jesus is sad, I’m sure.

On Christmas day, families gather to give to those who almost always give back.  On one level, there’s nothing wrong with that.  But let’s be honest.  “Exchanging” is not the same as “giving.”  Boxing Day was originally conceived to extend the time and reach of Christmas giving.

There are two primary theories about the origin of the name “Boxing Day.”  One is that worshipers placed money for the poor in offering boxes during Christmas service, and that money was distributed shortly after Christmas.

The other theory is that the wealthy would set aside cash, food, clothing, and toys in boxes leading up to Christmas, and send those boxes home with their servants.  The servants would usually get a few extra days off to make up for the overtime they had put in making Christmas special for those they served.

At its best, then, Boxing Day reminds us to think about those who are less fortunate than we are, to share with those who may not be able to give back, to express thanks to those who serve us.

Isaiah said that true fasting is “to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from own flesh and blood?”(Isaiah 58:6).

Jesus taught us that we give to him when we visit the sick or those in prison, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and welcome the stranger (Matthew 25:37-39).

When we give to those who cannot give back, we show the love of God who gave his Son to live and die for us while we were his enemies (Romans 5:8,10).

America doesn’t need another holiday to encourage spending.  But if we could keep the focus on giving, I would be in favor of adding Boxing Day to our calendars.

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