Demand to close ‘greedy’ shops on Boxing Day

Pandemonium: The doors open at the Selfridges Boxing Day sale on London’s Oxford Street. © PA

As Black Friday approaches, retailers are preparing for their busiest period of the year. But many of their staff want to shut the doors on the UK’s biggest shopping day of all, December 26th.

‘Forget making money for one day. Let’s concentrate on making more memories with the ones we love.’

So says Ian Lapworth, a baker from the British town of Kettering who wants to close the shops on December 26th, Boxing Day.

This ordinary individual has struck a nerve. By yesterday, more than 220,000 people had signed his petition to the government. Many of them were shop staff. ‘I am a retail manager and I haven’t spent time with family for Christmas since I was 15,’ one wrote. Others said they only got a few hours on Christmas Day to relax.

In Britain, Boxing Day has been earmarked for rest for centuries. The 17th-century diarist Samuel Pepys wrote about the practice of collecting Christmas boxes; in Victorian times, servants of the wealthy were given boxes of gifts and allowed the day off to visit their families.

But since the 1980s, it has become the most important shopping day of the year. Retailers have offered generous discounts on unsold Christmas presents. Many now open their doors as early as 5am. Last year they made nearly £3bn.

Christmas is traditionally a religious holiday, but in secular times it has become increasingly associated with consumerism. The term ‘January sales’ is largely an anachronism when people can shop online: some sales now begin as the shops close on Christmas Eve. Last year, over £700m was even spent on Christmas Day, breaking a record.

And many shops will offer eye-catching pre-Christmas discounts this week on Black Friday. The day was unheard of in the UK until 2010, but last year online sales passed £1bn in one day for the first time ever.

Black Friday originated in the USA, where there are notable parallels with Boxing Day. Most people have the day after Thanksgiving off and some Americans now complain of ‘Black Friday creep’, as major chains open for longer — including late on Thanksgiving Day itself.

So should we ‘forget making money’ and leave more time aside to enjoy the festivities?

Boxed in

Please, say some. Retail workers now have little choice but to work anti-social shifts if they want to keep their jobs. They deserve a few days’ rest. Shoppers would survive without their unnecessary items and the economy would be fine: we would spend our money another time. Christmas is a precious chance to contemplate a year gone by and the value of those closest to us.

Foolishly romantic, retort others. Freedom means people can buy what they want, when they want. Only a killjoy or snob could say people do not need the things they decide to buy. And closing shops would defy reality in the internet age: people would just shop online instead. A move intended to protect retail workers would end up costing them their jobs.

You Decide

  1. Would you like to work in a shop on Boxing Day or Black Friday?
  2. Should the shops be closed on Boxing Day?

Activities

  1. Work in pairs. Draw two posters: one advertising a Boxing Day sale, and one campaigning against it.
  2. It is Boxing Day (or Black Friday if you prefer) and the government has closed the shops for the day. Write a 500-word newspaper article, explaining why this has happened and how a variety of people are reacting.

Some People Say...

“Shops, pubs, banks… let them all open whenever they want.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I am not keen to work in a shop. How is this relevant to me?
The people who work in shops will also serve you when you next go to one. The hours they work will have an impact on your access to the goods they sell and the way they handle their customers. And there is a wider question here about what you would prefer: a society where people are free to shop when they want, or one where someone sets limits in an attempt to protect people?
Could working in a shop do me any good?
Perhaps it could be an option when you leave school, if the retail industry interests you. Or if you go to university, a job in a shop — for example, in the holidays — could be a good way to make some extra cash. You can learn a lot by working with the public, even if you only take a position for a short period of time.

Word Watch

220,000
When any petition gains more than 100,000 signatures in the UK, the government must consider debating it in parliament.
Britain
Boxing Day is only marked as a bank holiday in the UK, some Commonwealth countries and Hong Kong. It is now a major shopping day in Britain and Canada.
Practice
Pepys was writing in the late 17th century, when it was a custom for tradesmen to collect Christmas boxes as a sign of gratitude for loyal service.
£3bn
According to the Centre for Retail Research; £856m of this was spent online.
Anachronism
Something which is not appropriate to the period it is applied to — in this case, a term which is out of date.
2010
This was the year Amazon’s UK site started offering Black Friday discounts. Asda introduced Black Friday in its shops in 2013, and many other shops have quickly done the same.
£1bn
According to analysts IMRG and Experian. The whole weekend, between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, saw £3.3bn of spending in the UK.
Thanksgiving
This is particularly relevant because by some estimates, more Americans celebrate Thanksgiving than Christmas.

Subjects

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