Why is the day after christmas called boxing day?
The exact origins of the term are unknown, but it first appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1833. However, it may be traced back as early as the tenth century, to the story of Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia, known for his acts of charity and immortalized in the carol “Good King Wenceslas.” Other theories suggest that the term comes from the British tradition of distributing boxes filled with small gifts and food, or the contents of church collection boxes, to those in need on the day after Christmas.
Whatever the true story may be, the more modern notion of Boxing Day as a shopping holiday seems to be in contradiction with its origins. It is perhaps for this reason that, unlike here in B.C., most retailers in Atlantic Canada and Northern Ontario are prohibited from opening that day.
Clearing out Christmas Stock
That being said, Boxing Day sales have been a tradition for quite some time, as a way to clear out leftover Christmas stock. For instance, on December 26, 1913, the S.A. Shatford General Store in Vernon hosted an “Economy Sale;” an accompanying advertisement in the Vernon News stated that “profits, costs, values, all have been disregarded in this great merchandise event. We simply desire to reduce our stock all possible during the holiday season.”
Meanwhile, the term “Boxing Day” did not start being used in the Vernon News until the 1920s; in 1929, the newspaper advertised a Boxing Day Dance at the Eldorado Arms Hotel in Kelowna.
Since then, Boxing Day’s shopping frenzy has only intensified, and in Canada it is one of the highest revenue-generating days for retailers (third only to Black Friday and the Friday before Christmas).
To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts!
Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator