By Jill Scanlon
‘Twas the day after Christmas and all through the house, nothing was stirring not even a mouse’ (the latter possibly due to the family cat) but mainly because everyone has headed to the MCG for the Boxing Day Test -- because if you like cricket and you live in Melbourne, that’s what you do in the afterglow of an overindulgent Christmas Day.
Boxing Day means many things to many people, but in Melbourne, it is either cricket at the MCG, risking life and limb at the shopping sales or escaping on the annual family summer holiday, post-Christmas celebrations.
For me, cricket wins out hands down.
It is the most iconic day on the Australian sporting calendar: be it having a day out at the ‘G’ or ensconced on the couch nibbling leftovers, it is the perfect respite following busy weeks of racing to clear your desk of that seemingly never ending workload, hunting for that unfindable present and preparing enough food to feed an army -- but more than that, it is about the place of cricket in the Australian psyche.
The start of any Test cricket match is perceived as a day for stalwarts and traditionalists. But on Boxing Day, the old guard of the MCC members list is joined by those who love the 26th of December for what it says about Melbourne, summer, sporting tradition and Australia.
It is entrenched in the sport-loving psyche as an event, not just Day One of another Test match.
Families come prepared for the day carrying backpacks loaded with sustenance while the groups of teens to thirty somethings roll up having given little thought to what they’ll eat and when, but all don their hats, lather their sunscreen and ready their signs and flags.
While waiting to click through the turnstiles as the grand old lady finally welcomes in her visitors, one older gentleman tells me that his rule in life over many years as a cricket fan has been “always see the first ball bowled on Boxing Day” – and he’s never missed one.
Then a woman I meet later admits to me she had been worried at the start of the day about the weather as she’d surprised her husband with tickets for Christmas and both he and his sons were looking forward to finally experiencing Boxing Day at the MCG.
The demographic is broad but the feeling of this day as a rite-of-passage for all cricket-loving Aussies permeates the atmosphere around the ground.
And for those not actually at the game the devotion is still strong.
Across Australia, televisions and radios are on, the sounds of commentary flowing from houses as backyard games are played out between families and friends and car radios are tuned to the ball-by-ball commentary that sees a holiday road trip seem not quite so long.
For the uninitiated, it may seem like just another game of Test cricket but Boxing Day is so much more because of what it represents in the landscape of Australian sporting culture.