Tuesday, December 26, 2006

On Yoolis Night: A Look at the Day

Today, in the UK, Canada, and other countries of the British Commonwealth, today's remembrance of Saint Stephen is otherwise known as Boxing Day. Traditionally, it is a day when gifts are given to service workers. "The holiday's roots can be traced to Britain... its origins are found in a long-ago practice of giving cash or durable goods to those of the lower classes. Gifts among equals were exchanged on or before Christmas Day, but beneficences to those less fortunate were bestowed the day after." It certainly explains why "Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen..."

It would appear that the holiday is finally being brought to this former British colony -- as a commercial promotion for a chain of furniture warehouses. They hired some guy with a really bad imitation of a British accent to call it a "Boxing Day" sale. Don't ask me why.

The above makes it a good idea to reflect on the day before...

On the night before Christmas, there were six of us who met at a "New Orleans" style restaurant in Arlington, to exchange gifts and enjoy the ambience. (What do you get her girlfriend's husband if you've never met the guy before? You can never go wrong with a Swiss Army knife with a few useful tools. The "swisscard" model is shaped like a credit card, and fits in a wallet, for about $25. But hey, that's just me...)

In the past decade, I have usually attended "Christ Mass" at Midnight. I suppose it's the wonder of the holyday itself that can only be captured at the stroke of the clock, and the advent of the new day. That, and all those years in grade school envying the cool kids who got to go with their families to Midnight Mass, and our family was a little too plain-vanilla to break their routine for something you could just as easily do after a decent night's sleep. Anyway, I usually attend Epiphany Byzantine Catholic Church in nearby Annandale, my perennial "other parish." (Sentimental reasons.) But this year, I volunteered to assist as a narrator for the prelude choral service at St Thomas More Cathedral. I recovered from a fever the night before, in time to look fit as a fiddle, if a bit worn out.

The following morning, "Sal" and I went to the Filipino restaurant where she used to work weekends. It was closed for business, so the proprietress "Ate Helena"* could throw an informal banquet for her employees and friends -- not to mention their kids, who played a variation on the piñata, where inflated balloons filled with dollar bills would be popped with a stick and showered on those below. After all, penny candy would be too heavy for the helium to lift, right?

That evening, we went to the movies. We were supposed to see the limited area premiere of "Children of Men," but it was sold out. So we bought tickets to see "We Are Marshall," a true story set in a place where I used to live (which is also another story), but accidentally walked into "Dreamgirls," a mistake we learned only too late. Turned out to be the right choice, though. It's good that they made it into a musical, as it originally appeared on Broadway. The predominently-African-American crowd cheered their adopted heroine, Effie (Jennifer Hudson), which is more tribute than went to the ambitious manager (Jamie Foxx) or the diva Deena (Beyoncé Knowles). Ironically, the latter two got higher billing in the promotions, but neither character was all that likeable. It appeared a fitting way for many to honor another Motown artist, James Brown, who died at 1:45 that morning at the age of 73 (and whose first recording contract was with King Records in Cincinnati in 1956).

I took Sal back to her assignment, and made it back to Georgetown in time for a later showing of "Children of Men." It was a stroke of good fortune to get into a near-sellout showing, since I have a review to write.

As the clock neared midnight, I headed alone to my favorite spot by the Potomac, near the "seagulls" memorial along George Washington Parkway. As the radio played Chloe Agnew singing "Panis Angelicus," I watched the fog roll in, covering the upper half of the Washington Monument, and lend a soft glow to the illumination of the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. It was a moment to reminisce, about all the Christmases before, especially those of recent years. No, it wasn't spectacular this year, just a day of thanksgiving, albeit better than most. I didn't do everything I wanted to do. I didn't have to.

It was also a moment for a reminder. As my fifty-second birthday draws near, I realized that about a month ago, I had passed the point where I had lived in my native Ohio for longer than in Washington and its vicinity.

I may finally be getting the hang of the place.

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* In the Philippines, every family member is addressed by title based on their place, in the manner of aunts and uncles. "Ate" (pronounced "AHH-tay") is for the oldest sister. It is also a term of endearment, as in when one woman is like a "big sister" to another. Sal is addressed as "Bunso" (pronounced "BOON-so"), the youngest sister. Here endeth the lesson.

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