I expect traffic here on the site will be a bit light today. Understandable. I hope that all of you who celebrate Christmas had a wonderful day yesterday. And for those who are still in the midst of the festival of lights, I wish you a joyous Hannukah. I’ll keep this brief, because I have family in town and we have things to do. But I also wanted to wish all of you a Happy Boxing Day.
Boxing Day, which always falls on December 26, is a holiday that gets far more attention in England, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand than it does here in the States. Its origins are a bit hard to trace. Most explanations for the holiday focus on the fact that the day after Christmas was quite often a day off for household servants, who had spent Christmas Day working for their wealthy employers. Often the servants were given boxes containing presents, money, and leftover food from the Christmas feast. The servants took these boxes home to their families. In essence, Boxing Day was a second Christmas, a belated holiday for those who made their livings catering to the wealthiest in society. It is also a day that has become linked to charitable giving, that is when it’s not equated with post-Christmas shopping sprees and store sales, lengthy visits to a pub, and generally lazing around wondering if anyone will ever be hungry again after having gorged ourselves the day before.
In all seriousness, though, why would I bring up Boxing Day on Magical Words, and what could it possibly have to do with writing?
The answer is fairly simple: Boxing Day is a reminder to us that when we write books and stories in imagined settings, we need to pay attention to the details, the little things that made a society come alive. Specifically? Well, let’s take ritual for one. Think of how many holidays there are in late December — every major religion and several minor ones, including paganism, mark this time of year with ceremony and ritual. Boxing Day is kind of an Unintended Consequences Holiday, a special day that grew out of a traditional religious holiday. Ritual, often begets other ritual — holidays create their own customs and necessities. Building such customs into your worldbuilding can make the settings you create that much more realistic, that much richer.
Along similar lines, the other thing Boxing Day reminds us of is the role that socio-economic stratification can play in defining traditions and shaping the celebration of even the most basic holidays. Remember the PBS mini-series Upstairs, Downstairs? That was a wonderful example of a series of story lines built around class difference. Dealing with socio-economic divisions in fiction doesn’t necessarily mean creating the equivalent of the French Revolution. Sometimes it can be as simple as reflecting on a holiday like Boxing Day. Fantasies often focus on religious conflict, racial prejudice, rivalries among ducal houses or kingdoms. I know that there are exceptions to what I’m about to say (so really, you don’t need to remind me of all of them), but it seems to me that our genre often givens short shrift to class conflict. It may be that adding a socio-economic element to your fantasy will not only give you more narrative avenues to explore, but will also set your work apart from others that land on the desk of an agent or editor. Think about it.
In the meantime, enjoy your Boxing Day. And if you feel like it, why not share some of the rituals and/or holiday customs that you’ve created for your worlds.David B. Coe http://davidbcoe.livejournal.com http://www.DavidBCoe.com http://magicalwords.net