On Writing: A Boxing Day Thought for Writers


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

11 comments to On Writing: A Boxing Day Thought for Writers

  • What an awesome post, and what a terrific insight into world building. I swear, one of the things that constantly amazes me about MW is how much I still learn from it, despite being at least nominally proficient at this whole writing game. 🙂

    Most of my worlds are so much like this one I’ve no particular holidays that are different or interesting! What a shame! 🙂

  • Lady Ash

    Thank you. I was looking for something like this to help get through a sticky portion in a novel I’m working on. So very timely.

  • Fireheart1974

    David, This is a great post! And timely too. I realized a few weeks ago that my WIP takes place during the holiday season…so it makes sense that I need to include mentions of Christmas decorations and holiday shoppers and since it takes place in England, I suppose Boxing Day would make sense to include as well. And I like the idea of creating holidays/rituals as well for my fantasy/otherworld writings.

    PS: My husband bought me two of the “Howdunit Series” books for Christmas! I am really enjoying the details.

  • Happy Merry, everyone! All I can think of right now is Jubiliee, from the Rogue Mage novels – which I never had the chance to explain or show. Hmmm. Maybe I need to to that! (thinking of short story…)

  • Catie said: “…despite being at least nominally proficient at this whole writing game.” Well, you’ve certainly mastered the art of understatement…. Thanks, Catie. Glad you found the post helpful. I spent a great deal of time creating holidays and rituals for the Forelands series. It was time-consuming, but so worth it. Some of the best worldbuilding I’ve done revolved around those details.

    Thanks, Lady Ash. Glad to know that the post came at a good time!

    Fireheart, thank you. Definitely include Boxing Day in the holidays if you’re writing in England (though make sure the dates work — I’m trying to remember when Boxing Day first came into being; I know it’s fairly modern as holidays go, so if your story is set in the deep past, double check the dates. And enjoy the Howdunit books! They really are great fun.

    Faith, happy merry to you, too. Sounds as though you’ve got a new short to write!!

  • Thanks, David. As someone who celebrates Boxing Day, I especially like the sentiment and the core idea. My sense of the day complements yours in that I think of Boxing day as the more secular aspect of Christmas, Christmas day itself being traditionally a day of religious observance which kicks off the 12 days of the season ending with January 6th, the feast of the Epiphany (another good theme day for writers!). Cheers to all. AJH

  • Razziecat

    This is a great reminder that we need to know the backstory of our fictional world itself, just as we know the characters’ backstories. In real life, rituals and holidays provide links to the community, to the divine, to our ancestors. For some they are times of joy, for others, of sadness or high stress. In one of my worlds, there are three moons. They are rarely full at the same time. When they are, there is a festival based on the idea of fullness, increase, ripeness. As you can imagine, this is considered an ideal time to conceive a child 😉 It’s also a time of thanksgiving and family celebration. I’m still working on this aspect of the world, but the moons and their phases are a large part of the culture. Thanks, David, for reminding us that rituals and holy days can give texture and flavor to our stories.

  • Vyton

    One of the more recent additions to the rituals of Boxing Day is the connecting of new electronic gizmos to older, somewhat incompatible gizmos. Hope you have enjoyed your Boxing Days. Thank you for the post, David.

  • Well, Boxing Day up here in Canada, at least, is to us what Black Friday is to Americans. DH and I are actually not shopping today, which is a first for us. (Me, I’ve got a plane ticket to buy, for Charlotte in June for a certain Con 😉 )

    In my MC’s country, the religion is somewhat nature-based (the deity is called the Land). They celebrate the eight seasons – the solstices, equinoxes, then the four sacred days in between – Frostswen, Heartswen, Heatswen, and Deathswen. The deity is different in the neighbouring country, but the beliefs are very similar. Each holiday has meaning reflective of the time of the year, so Midwinter’s Eve celebrates the return of the light. I haven’t had much chance to explore what happens to the servants on these days, though, because in the villages, everone participates in the sacred night, and the one time my MC’s around upperclass folk, she’s got other things on her mind. Thank you for giving me something to think about. It may just be that they’re given a different time of the day (or the day after) to pay their respects.

  • One of my worlds was originally populated as a prison planet. Several thousand years later, memory of that origin has been forgotten, along with most of the technology that allowed transport of prisoners to a distant planet. Now, the dominant religion is based on The Book, which contains The Law, and God is The Judge. The church’s leader is the High Warden and his priests are Guards (enforcers) and Mediators (teachers). Traditions and celebrations are mutations of events from prison life with shadings of forgotten human religions and years of surviving on a harsh desert planet.

    I’ve had almost as much fun developing the religion and sociology of the planet as I’ve had developing the characters and the story!

  • Thanks for the comment, A.J. I have always been intrigued by the 12 days — though, I’ve never liked the song. I love the idea of exploring the Feast of the Epiphany as another source for writing ideas.

    Thanks for the comment, Razz. My Forelands world had two moons, and the rituals and customs I mentioned in my first comment actually revolve around the moon cycles and the legend of how the moons themselves came to be. Thanks for sharing a glimpse of your world. Sounds intriguing!

    Vyton, thanks for the comment. As a lover of gizmos old and new, I’m interested in the idea of combining the old and new.

    Laura, yes, I’ve heard that Boxing Day is big on shopping, and it seems a guy actually died in a store rush in Britain, yesterday. Yikes! I like the set-up for your world. Glad you found the post thought-provoking.

    Lyn, that sounds very cool. And I know just what you mean — worldbuilding is just about my favorite part of any project.