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December 26, 2017


A whole new world was created when Christmas was popularized by the mass published “A Christmas Carol”. In Industrial Age England, the middle class who could buy and have the time to read that era’s high tech communication revolution, publishing was a phenoninal change in English culture.

This growing middle class grew to love children as sacred gifts, versus often short-lived necessities as medicine improved. Owning a place to live in that you loved was not just for the rich. The very reason that you had time and education to read Dickens’ book spoke to the change where subsistence living faded and leisure diversions were possible.

Servants were possible too. Usually migrants from other, less urban, places in Britain. Of course other, new, trades replaced the artisanal culture of most households where you made what you used. Those trades sold you the things the family used to make.

People might forget the Revolution part of the Industrial Revolution when it comes to the society that kicked it all off. So in the newly festive and celebrated Christmas holiday, often centered around the newly beloved offspring, there were new folk that you dealt with to create the life you wanted. With all the other changes there was time to make that life fuller than subsistence coping – gifts are possible in this new commercial world.

Beyond the family, you could extend Christmas to your servants, your tradesmen, your shopkeepers. The day after the Feast that celebrated the Birth of Christ became the day those gifts were given in 19th century England. Those gifts were given in boxes: so the day after Christmas became Boxing Day.

Boxing Day is a metaphor for me – and our family. A family went outside their life together to touch mine. The gifts given to us beyond that family almost 50 years ago extended beyond genetics with a generosity and Grace that passes all understanding.

Their act of kindness came to me when Christmas at my genetic family’s location was sometimes necessary, but never joyous. In the full flower of time Christmas went beyond metaphor into a literal Boxing Day ritual. Neither my wife and my families were places of happy connection, so before children we went up to visit that family, then, post children, found ways to connect. Then for the last 20 years we travelled up to Vermont to be with a family that effectively saved my emotional life in Buffalo in the 1970’s.

That trip was a place fraught with rituals. We make a high-ethanol fruitcake about the size of the Baby Jesus in weight and bulk. Obsessively wrapped presents, baked goods, often other elements of our lives were shared. We took the full 3 hours up and back in the day, no matter what the weather.

The focal point of this effort, the Matriarch & Patriarch are the center of several families’ love and attention at these Boxing Days. We admired the Patriarch so fully that we named our eldest son after him. Soon the children became a huge focus of the day: but we all grow older. Now young men and women have replaced the kids, and the adults are now, well, old: me included. We loved them unconditionally, so the visit was a joy.

But age is unforgiving, unrelenting, and change happens. This year the huge trip by the eldest from Buffalo to Vermont proved just too much – even with a child chauffeur. The huge trip of their 90-plus years has an arrival, as all trips do. That arrival draws nearer, so near that in the brief phone call that replaced today’s trip, it only took a few words to recount the joy of taking a few steps, and the exhaustion that ensued.

Just as our first Boxing Day 20 years ago was not the first ever, this change will not be the last. Fragile youth become forceful adult. The fit people become feeble. The able cope.

The only constant is love.

At all the stages devotion is there – real despite ritualization. The Baby Jesus Fruitcake arrives this year in Buffalo to greet the gathered family. There will be other tokens, necessary words, but also deeply felt truths.

Change is life: hard, bad, good: Had their daughter not sat next to me on the Niagara Frontier Transit Bus in 1970, I would not know any of this. But she did. In that act, I believe God sat next to me – a coping bag of doubt and damage. That tiny act of positive regard, exploded into thousands of moments, words, efforts of love over the last 47 years. I met my wife through her, we had children in coincidental years, I have helped their extended families to build scores of things in many places.

The Patriarch and I have mothered their beloved Adirondack house through 30 years of changes, repairs and evolutions: a shared awe of the building architect’s vision, but for me, there was the deepest love of the building arts and the resonant joy of expressing yourself in a home. It was a connection we had that choreographed our passions but also applied our skills in the seminal good of harboring a family.

That family comes together on Boxing Day back in Buffalo today: with our lifelong friends we have sent our box: with our versions of Frankincense and Myrrh and the fully swaddled Baby Jesus Fruitcake. The Patriarch loved it so much that over the years he would send my wife and I (who effectively co-authored the cake in a multi-day effort) the last bit of cake taped to a card in March or April, as its size and preciousness were carefully managed by him.

That bit is with me today. It was saved to be shared, just like me. We can all simply live in our lives, many do. But we can also love. We can live beyond the safety of isolation. But even gifts are given, they are offered and accepted – those gifts are risked, and sometimes fail. But some gifts change things for everyone involved, in ways no one knew, let alone intended.

I was not Tiny Tim, but I was not in a good place 47 years ago. By showing a lumpy 15 year old kindness a life was nurtured beyond the meal, or gift, or conversation. I cannot repay that love in person today. But I can send a box on Boxing Day.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. mary zahl permalink
    December 26, 2017 6:36 pm

    Duo, this is most touching. Thanks for writing and sharing it. Happy Boxing Day🎄 ❌⭕️❤️😍

    Sent from my iPhone



  1. Boxing Day | Saved By Design

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