I'VE been recalling the hazy, lazy Boxing Days of my childhood.

Were the 1970s really so long ago? I guess they were. In that decade, shops were firmly shut on Boxing Day.

There was leftover food aplenty and if the weather co-operated, it was packed into chilly bins and the extended family headed to the beach.

I remember the park at Days Bay, opposite Wellington, being crowded with picnic rugs.

Advertisement

There was swimming, bush walks, impromptu games of cricket and soccer, swingball, napping and of course, more eating.

It's impossible not to feel nostalgic when now Boxing Day is spent by so many ... back at the shops. Queuing even, to get in there the moment the doors opened. Scores of people in Hamilton were outside Harvey Norman at 7am.

In Auckland, the queues to get into Sylvia Park mall gridlocked the motorway.

It's not just Boxing Day that is being eroded. I noted with some sadness the sign outside the local Four Square all last week, declaring "Open Xmas Day!". Why? I thought.

Okay, I know the answer is obvious. There's money to be made.

But really, is it worth it?

For one day, can we not be organised enough to buy in advance what we need? Or make do?

Because I also (just) remember banks closing at 4pm on Friday and there being no way to access money until they re-opened on Monday morning. (Cheques were big: I remember my father solemnly teaching me how to make out a cheque, a rite of passage to adulthood.) The shops had a "late night" on Friday and closed for the weekend too.

Advertisement

As for the Boxing Day sales, all I can think about is all the staff required back at work.

My partner's family gathered on Christmas Eve to accommodate 21-year old Lizzie.

She finished work at a large retailer in Auckland at 4.30pm on Saturday and drove straight to Feilding, arriving just before midnight.

There was just a day of catching up with the extended family before she left for the return journey on Christmas Day: she had to report for work for the all-important Boxing Day sale.

I don't forget the people that have to work Christmas Day and all the other public holidays, for good and important reasons.

There are the high profile ones: fire-fighters, police officers and surgeons. And many more of the lowly-paid and generally under-appreciated, like the women taking care of the elderly in rest homes. To all of you, heartfelt thanks.

Somehow, shopping for disposable consumer goods just doesn't seem like an emergency that should require thousands of people in retail to turn up for work.

But the horse has bolted; the stable door probably won't even close. I don't know what it would take to stem the relentless tide of commerce.

On an individual level, I just choose not to shop on public holidays.

There was $139 million poured into tills this Boxing Day - in some regions, spending was up 25 per cent on last year. Not a cent of it was mine, a tiny and unnoticed protest.

★★★I had a fit of nostalgia for home baking a few Christmases back, for my Gran's fruit cakes and mince pies, the Sunday dinner trifles, pavlova.

My lovely friend Sarah, an accomplished home baker, needed no encouragement: we would make desserts for the rest of the week she declared, to celebrate the new year.

Well, I'd never had trifle like it. With all due respect to my late Gran, she bought the sponges on the way home from church (along with the cardboard carton of Tip Top vanilla ice-cream which melted wondrously in the ice-box while we ate our roast dinner). Sarah, she baked the sponge cakes herself. And then doused them in liquor.

Needless to say, there was never a drop of that in the Methodist trifles of my childhood.

It was a memorable occasion but I did end up hung over on sugar for days and, on reflection, I enjoyed the time together in the kitchen more than eating all that which we'd baked.

To my eternal disappointment, Gran's recipe books disappeared. Every woman used to have one or several, a blank exercise book bursting with recipes collected over decades, clipped from magazines or copied from friends.

My Gran was a supremely practical and unsentimental woman. We've surmised that once there was no one to bake for, she simply tossed the recipe books.

It wouldn't have occurred to her that all her granddaughters would have treasured them.

But I do have the recipe for Gran's ginger gems.

My sister in Australia has the cast iron gem irons, so at some point all of this will be in the same place and we'll actually try our hand at it.

Meanwhile, I'm still looking for guidance about how to make shortbread with half wholemeal flour, just like my Gran made.

■Rachel Rose is a writer and editor who makes her home in Whanganui. More information at www.facebook.com/rachelrose.writer