Kage Baker was fascinated with the varied history of Boxing Day. She spent years figuring it out (the sources offer wildly differing ideas), and that led her into a lifelong affection for all things British.
She was an enthusiastic and scholarly Anglophile from an early age. I think it was due to British children’s stories from people like E. Nesbit and Alan Garner, plus the psychedelic rainbow of fairy tale books from Andrew Lang. A lot of them are English, Scottish, Welsh … and written in rather nutty dialects that took us years to translate. The “Black Bull of Norroway” still sticks to my memory, as it was written in a weird form of somewhat Lowland patois, and was especially grim, as well. Lots of blood.
The young lady who is the heroine completes all sorts of onerous tasks while wearing iron shoes, by the way, while her paramour prince lies persistently narcoleptic due to a curse. Trying to read this story, in particular, was an initial introduction to both dialect and antique grammar. It didn’t do a lot for spelling, either – not mine, anyway. Kage recovered from that eventually.
But that sort of reading was what made Kage the Anglophile she became. She got into history, and became fanatic about the purity of sources and the dichotomy of fact and fantasy. She despised bodice rippers, she loved Shakespeare. She and I taught Elizabethan English as a theatrical accent for over 20 years; the inchoate prose of The Black Bull was always in the back of our conjoined mind.
So was the crystalline upper-class speech of small children observed by E. Nesbit; the WWII slang of the school kids in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books; and all the Victorian voices of Charles Dickens, of course. And since all of these tales had an undercurrent of fantasy (Even Dickens. Justice does not happen that easily in any real world, Dear Readers.), everything British retained for Kage a patina of faerie lands.
Finding out what Boxing Day actually meant was part of that. Americans believe a lot of demented things about the day, many of them being childish jokes; Kage dug for the real, societal reason and was as happy with the anthropological verity as she would have been to discover it was based on a Goblin Market. I won’t bore y9u again with what Boxing Day really means, Dear Readers. I’ve done that in other blogs. It’s an essentially un-American ritual, too, so you may be better off with the idea that it’s the day you box up the Christmas decorations.
Americans have largely forgotten which days are the actual 12 Days of Christmas, anyway.
Consequently, there are already Christmas trees out on the curb in my neighborhood, abandoned by clueless people who think Christmas ended on December 25th. That is traditionally the day it begins, really. It will go on to January 6th, which is 12 Night. And that’s a holiday invisible to most Americans unless they are Eastern Orthodox Christians, or some other, less modern flavour of Christianity. Also Anglophiles, and the devotees of Christmas as practiced in the British Isles for the last 1,000 years.
This blog wanders dreadfully, Dear Readers. My apologies! Blame Boxing Day, and my consumption of seasonal delicacies over the last 2 days. I’ve been asleep most of the day, while the lights of the tree played over me – my family likes a few grotesques for the Yuletide decorations; I’m no worse, under my blankets and cats, than Cthulhu Claus on the mantle in his red hat. Tonight I have feasted on peach pie while I type this, and listened with half an auditory processing lobe to the Rachel Maddow show. I’m lucky I can form sentences at all …
What I wanted to do was explain a little of Kage’s mental wellsprings. Not where she got her ideas, but how her mind was shaped to translate stories into something someone else could understand. Spelunking into traditions is a great way to start.
At least, it was for Kage.
- Seven lang years I served for thee,
- The glassy hill I clamb for thee,
- Thy bluidy sark I wrang for thee;
- An’ wilt thou not wake and turn to me?
From The Black Bull of Norroway; Andrew Lang, The Blue Fairy Book.