Boxing Day - ©

Boxing Day Musings: Embrace Tradition – Spread The Wealth!

Canada gets a unique tradition through its British roots: Boxing Day. That’s the day after Christmas, and this being the day after Christmas, I thought a little history might be in order. Researching the occasion, I was surprised to discover that it wasn’t originally a day for bargains and buying!

Boxing Day Crowd Toronto - © via Wikipedia CommonsA typical Boxing Day Sale crowd: At Toronto’s downtown Eaton Centre.

Not what you were thinking opens its extensive treatise on Boxing Day by dispelling the myths and misconceptions: “In spite of its peculiar name, Boxing Day has nothing to do with fisticuffs, the trashing of empty boxes left over from Christmas or the return of unwanted presents to department stores.”

(I thought it would be good to start my treatise with a little humour, borrowed though it may be! Nevertheless…)

I kid you not

Boxing Day – the 26th. of December; St. Stephen’s Day – was originally observed as a day to give gifts to the poor. The gifts consisted of small items, money and leftovers from the rich folks’ Christmas table. The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that the first literary reference to the tradition is to be found n 1833, in Dickens’ Pickwick Papers. But Boxing Day as the Victorians knew it may date back hundreds of years earlier.

We also know there’s been a long tradition of donating money to the ‘alms box’ set out at every church during the Christmas season, the proceeds from which went to help the poor.

Celebrated widely

Boxing Day is still observed today – in the UK and a number of former British colonies including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Nigeria, Trinidad and Tobago, Singapore, and even Hong Kong in spite of the reversion of control there to China in 1999. In Bermuda, brightly costumed Gombey dancers perform in the streets in a tradition that’s believed to date back to the 18th. Century, when the slaves were permitted to gather on that one day a year.

Even the U.S. is in on the deal – sort of. “In Massachusetts,” Wikipedia tells us, “Governor William F. Weld declared in 1996 that every 26 December is Boxing Day, in response to the efforts of a coalition of British citizens to ‘transport the English tradition to the United States’, but not an employee holiday.”

Greed wins out over good will

Sometime after the Second World War, Boxing Day started to evolve into a day on which merchants in those countries which observed it held big one-day, deep-discount sales – originally intended to clear leftover seasonal merchandise. But it soon became a chance for merchants to buy big (in large quantities, at low unit prices) and sell big, at low retail prices that still offered them a worthwhile profit margin.

Now, it’s often compared to Black Friday in the U.S., when millions of hard-core shoppers besiege the major department stores looking for bargains unheard of through the rest of the year. Black Friday is traditionally the day following Thanksgiving (which, in the U.S., is always on a Thursday). It’s considered the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season.

False economy

As the commercial Boxing Day custom continues to morph, it’s taken on a life of its own. Some mass-market retailers plan for and execute huge Boxing Week and even Boxing Mo0nth sales. This, for me, begs the question, “When is a sale not a sale?” Answer: “When it’s on every day!”

I wonder how the retailers keep their businesses afloat when masses of shoppers hold out for the year-end sales, and don’t buy stuff they want (or need) though the rest of the year? They still have to pay rent, taxes, utility bills and so on every month, just the same. Am I missing something?

And I wonder if folks are depriving themselves of necessities, or putting off critical purchases in hopes of cashing in on the holiday sales? How long would you wait before getting your kid a new pair of jeans, after the old ones started to get holes in them? How long would you do the dishes by hand after the old dishwasher conked out?

My take

I think it’s time to get back to the original meaning of Boxing Day.

The year-end holidays are traditionally the toughest times of the year for the food banks and other charities to do their job – helping those in need. donations boxes in supermarkets should be overflowing this time of year, and food bank funding drives should be going over the top. But after decades of the same pleas, year after year, from those who seek to help, the message has become dulled and faded. A lot of folks just assume others will stand up and fill the need. I know it’s hard for many of us to give after COVID-19 took their jobs and drained their savings over the past two years. That’s a whole extra problem over and above the usual year-end charity crunch.

But to those who can help: Please give to a responsible charity in your town which can help those in need weather the holidays and the second winter of COVID. Give to a local cause or organization, so your donation will be appreciated by someone in your own community. Remember: Next year, it might be you and yours on the receiving end.

Muse on that…

Maggie J.