AND now for the best bit. When the openers walk to the crease at the MCG this morning we will recognise all is well on our patch of the planet. When Hobart-bound yachts race for Sydney Harbour's heads we will know the summer holidays are here for sure. As the most determined of shoppers return from the sales with tales of bargains won we will understand that shopping is a participation sport. And as families gather at the beach or by the river we will regret the year's losses but delight in the way that life in this happy land goes on, much as it has done down the decades. To say that this Boxing Day is much like the last does not reduce it to a routine ritual, it simply celebrates the good fortune of a society where a great seasonal festival revolves around simple and shared pleasures.
The great joy of Boxing Day is what it says about Australia. This most relaxed of our national holidays celebrates nothing much. It has no special significance in the Christian calendar, it memorialises no national achievement. It is simply a day where most of us can relax. After the bother of the pre-Christmas rush it is an opportunity to do as little as possible. Following the nervousness of the day itself- will the turkey be moist and the prawns fresh?, will the cousins stay civil? - it is a day to suit yourself. A day for cooks to point to leftovers and suggest everybody assemble their own meals. A day for parents to tell children to do what they like, but quietly. A day for people who do not usually care about cricket to wonder when the new ball will be taken, for people who do not know a boom from a buoy to speculate about what a wind change will mean for the Hobart bound fleet. And Australians, whether their ancestors have lived here for millennia or are recent arrivals, will spend it in much the same way, revelling in the freedom to do what they like. The great joy of Boxing Day in Australia is the way it accommodates people from cultures across the planet, of all religious faiths, and none at all. From Muslim women wearing headscarves on the beach to Pakistani families applauding at the cricket there is room for all who understand the obligation to respect those around them.
Not all Australians feel blessed this morning. Many mourn the death of a loved one, others are burdened by illness or disability, many are struggling with the impact of unemployment and an unacceptable number are unsure what they will eat or where they will sleep tonight. But in the main we are blessed this Boxing Day. At the end of a year where peace prevailed, where we escaped the worse of the global financial crisis, and where we can now enjoy this great day off, much as we enjoyed last year's, Australia is indeed a lucky country.