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2013-12-26 at 11:21

Boxing Day origins

By Jodi Lundmark, tbnewswatch.com
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Boxing Day is for the die-hard shoppers.

On Dec. 26 Thunder Bay shoppers can be found lined up waiting for Intercity Shopping Centre to open at 9 a.m. with all of its Boxing Day sales and the mall is full all day.

"There is never any parking available...People don't come here to hang out on that day. They come here to shop. They're here for a purpose," said Shannon Young, marketing director for Intercity.

"Everybody's got bags in their hands."

A little further down Memorial Avenue, there are also people swarming into the Power Centre looking for deals on the latest electronics.

"We actually have a security guard that we hire for the front door, just to monitor the amount of people that kind of storm the doors, make sure nobody is getting all frantic on us," said store manager Dave Radford.

"From there, it's just lots of people buying lots of stuff," he said.

Boxing Day means extensive preparation work for retailers - ordering supplies months in advance, advertising sales, setting up new store displays and generating new price tags.

And while it used to be the day to sell all the demonstration models off the floor - the products without boxes - manufacturers now let retailers know which products they have ready for the country's busiest shopping day.

The day has evolved over the last 20 to 30 years for retailers and consumers, with sales now lasting for an entire Boxing Week, but that's not the only thing that's changed

The original meaning of the holiday has changed dramatically from its beginnings as a day, rooted in religion, to give back to the poor.

"There is no religious context in Boxing Day (anymore)," said Beverly Soloway, a history professor at Lakehead University.

"People see it as a day of shopping. They think the boxing part of Boxing Day is the goods you're buying are in boxes or a reference to boxes being put out for garbage," she said.

Boxing Day's history is tied to the British Empire, which is why it is mostly celebrated only in Commonwealth countries like Canada, England, New Zealand and Australia.

It originates from St. Stephen's Day, still celebrated in most of Ireland. St. Stephen was the patron of the poor.

Soloway said it shifted from St. Stephen's Day to Boxing Day after the English Reformation - when the Church of England separated from the Catholic Church under King Henry VIII, creating the Anglican communion.

Soloway couldn't say when the holiday changed it's name to Boxing Day but it was sometime in the Victorian era in the 1800s.

The holiday consisted of giving gifts of food - upper class people would give the lower class their Christmas feast leftovers and the lower class would also share gifts of food.

"This whole process of gifting was called the Christmas box," said Soloway.

Boxing Day was also the day the Anglican community would open up its alms, boxes used to collect money for the poor. They would divide the money and give it to various organizations that helped the less fortunate.

"We have these two separate meanings coming out. One where it is a present, a gift box, and the other where it comes out of the alms box and somewhere along the way, we've changed it to be the shopping box," said Soloway, adding she doesn't know when the meaning behind the holiday changed, but can remember people getting anxious to hit up Boxing Day sales as early as the late 1980s.

St. Paul's Anglican Church archdeacon Deborah Kraft also doesn't know when the meaning behind Boxing Day became lost.

"It's a day designed to be one of charity and generosity to those in need," said Kraft.

"Then somehow in the North American mind, here in Canada we associated Boxing Day with Christmas sales."

Kraft said alms boxes began with Roman soldiers storing their gambling winnings in the church when they came to England. The church felt they were an acceptable place to hold money for the poor and they chose St. Stephen's Day to open the alms because he was the martyr associated with generosity.

She added the term Boxing Day came from the Christmas box sharing done between the upper and lower classes.

The church doesn't collect alms anymore, but they still donate time and money to charities.

St. Paul's donated more than $850 to Christmas Cheer this year and also give to the Regional Food Distribution Association.

"We do things 12 months of the year not just on the one day," said Kraft.

There may not be a service on Boxing Day but it is recognized during the 12 days of Christmas that start on Dec. 25 and ends on Jan. 6 when Epiphany begins.

When the focus of Boxing Day shifted from giving to the poor to bargain hunting may always remain a mystery.

Stores in Thunder Bay have always been allowed to be open on Boxing Day. While it is a national statutory holiday, it's up to municipalities whether or not retailers can open their doors on Dec. 26.

Thunder Bay follows the provincial Retail Business Holiday Act, which lists nine holidays stores have to be closed for; Boxing Day is not one of them.

Radford, however, remembers a time when the Power Centre was closed on Boxing Day.

"We used to really like it when Dec. 26 was closed and I don't know who started this but we get that whole one day off on Christmas," he said with a laugh.

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We've improved our comment system.
Blain says:
thats a snazzy jacket.....
12/26/2013 2:28:56 PM
cm punky says:
thats a pretty cool jacket there
12/27/2013 10:14:55 AM
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