Jennifer Finney Boyan explains the English tradition, along with its Irish counterpart:
In England, it’s Boxing Day; in Ireland and elsewhere, it’s St. Stephen’s Day. When I was a student in London, my professor, a Briton, explained that it was called Boxing Day because it’s the day disappointed children punch one another out.
For years I trusted this story, which only proves that there are some people who will believe anything, and I am one of them.
The real origins of Boxing Day go back to feudal times, when workers on a lord’s estate would ask, on this day, for a Christmas box, in exchange for good service throughout the year. Later, the tradition expanded to include the collection of alms for the poor.
In Ireland, St. Stephen’s Day brings the appearance of the Wren Boys— costumed revelers engaged in a ritualized hunting of a wren. The best-known Wren parade happens in Dingle, in County Kerry. There’s a lot of marching around and collecting of money, some of which goes to charity and some of which — according to at least one of my Irish friends — goes to pay for a round at the pub. The veneration of the wren predates Christianity, in fact: The Irish word for wren, “dreoilin” — comes from two words, “draoi ean,” the druid bird.
In London on this Boxing Day, few stores have opened, but at least the Tube has resumed a normal schedule. And, of course, the sun hasn't come out from behind the low overcast all day. Perfect British winter weather.
After an amazing dinner at One Aldwych this evening, I grabbed a book from my room* and headed down to my own hotel's bar. Between the two places I met people from Italy, Spain, Cape Verde (via Portugal), Germany, Russia, Poland, Sardinia (yes, a part of Italy), and Wales (yes, a part of the UK).
London has made itself over the past two decades into this kind of mixed, cosmopolitan, vibrant city. I hope it continues; Brexit could kill it. So I'm glad I'm visiting now while it's at peak international. (The $1.27-to-£1 exchange rate doesn't hurt either.)
More photos. First, it was the best of Thames, it was the worst of Thames (compare with this one):
Second, the other side of St Pauls, along with yours truly and a pint of Beavertown Brewery Neck Oil Session IPA, at Founder's Arms on the Queen's Walk:
Finally, one of the greatest cultural centers in modern Europe, the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden:
And now, as my body thinks it's just coming up on 4pm, I will take yet another walk. London is a beautiful city; there's little I like more than just exploring it.
*An excellent and personally-relevant history of urban "renewal" in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago called The Battle for Lincoln Park.
I've arrived safely in the Ancestral Homeland, and as my body will tell you, it's too early to text anyone back home to let them know.
Right now I plan to sleep. Assuming I wake up sometime today, I'll get some caffeine, possibly a bite, and then walk around my second-favorite city in the world for a bit, aiming to queue up for St Paul's midnight service sometime around 22:30. (I might also try to get in to the Christmas carol service at 16:00; haven't decided yet.)
I'm heading to the Ancestral Homeland in a few days, and this chart is a veritable Christmas present from the Brexit idiots:
The last time Sterling was this low was Christmas 2016—the last Christmas I was in London.
Thank you, Boris Johnson, and your tourist-friendly policies.
This coffee shop, on Bermondsey Street:
And this airplane:
Actually, the A380 was pretty cool inside, though I may have erred getting an upper-deck seat. Next trip to London, I'll go for a lower-deck seat if I can. (Or even business class...hmmm...)
This is how I spent an hour of my holiday today:
It's beautiful out: 21°C, mostly sunny, with a gentle breeze. But I walked that far in less than an hour, so I'm now back at my hotel to shower. Still, this is exactly how I needed to spend today.
I mentioned earlier today (yesterday BST) that I sought the Source. Here it is:
That monument marks the official head of the River Thames, though in September after a long, dry summer, there isn't a lot else that would convince you. Still, boundaries and origins have always fascinated me, so I just had to see it.
Naturally, the closest pub to the monument capitalizes on its notoriety:
Also just as naturally, my trip to Kemble required a totally unanticipated hour and 20 minutes in Swindon, which...well, let me save a thousand words:
Yeah...I don't even know the American analogy to it, but my money's on Elgin: the train doesn't stop in the best spot, but otherwise it's a decent exurb with a history.
Tomorrow I'm staying entirely in London, and planning on going to pub quiz at my second-favorite pub in the world, now that I know they have pub quiz Monday nights. Right now, I aim to finish Redshirts, which I started in Kemble. And then go to sleep. Because my stay-on-Chicago-time strategy has not worked entirely according to plan.
Today's plan is to hop a train for about an hour and 20 minutes and look for a specific monument in a field. One hopes that today I'll remember to put sunscreen on my face. It is, in fact, possible to get a sunburn in the UK in September.
Details and photos tonight.
I had thought about going to see the Chelsea v Bournemouth match at Stamford Bridge today, and even tried to get tickets online for weeks. But getting an English Premier League ticket when you're not a club member is a bit like trying to get a Yankees-Red Sox ticket at Fenway day of game.
I did, however, (a) see Stamford Bridge and (b) buy a shirt, so I feel a bit like I participated.
On the way back, I walked through Brompton Cemetery, which, like Graceland Cemetery back home, is something very close by that I haven't seen before. It was worth the detour:
Note how not very green the place is right now. The UK really hasn't gotten a lot of rain this summer. It's quite grim.
I will now take a brief nap before heading out to Hampstead Heath on my way to Southampton Arms. And if my favorite pub in the UK is also closed, I will...go somewhere else, I suppose.