Jayne Dowle: Forget the sales and just enjoy a Boxing Day rest

I CAN think of nothing worse than going shopping today. After all the preparation, all the presents and the bank-balance-checking paranoia on Christmas Eve, the very last thing I want to do is spend any more money on Boxing Day.

Should shops remain shut on Boxing Day?

My plans extend no further than taking the dog for a nice long walk and then playing our new family edition of Trivial Pursuit.

In these modest aims, I feel like a freak. Millions of women like me will have been up since way before the crack of dawn, camping out from 2am to get the best spot to snap up cut-price party-wear. Still more will have set the alarm to rise at an unfeasibly early hour in order to wait, fingers poised, to bag a new television or food processor at one of the plethora of online sales.

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Last year, retail experts believed that 22 million people would have spent more than £3bn on Boxing Day. Who has this kind of money to spend immediately after the expense of Christmas itself? Talk about a hangover. I’d rather go without a new food processor for the rest of my life than dread the January credit card bill dropping on the doormat.

Isn’t Christmas commercialised enough without this retail onslaught coming upon us before the turkey has even cooled? Call me old-fashioned, but I always thought that Boxing Day was a time to recover, refresh and maybe even take a few moments out for quiet contemplation. And what ever happened to Boxing Day tea, or watching football or any other outdoor pursuit? Are these fine traditions all to be sacrificed on the altar of consumerism?

That’s why I agree with Helen Jones, Labour MP for Warrington North. Just before Christmas, she called for shops to be closed on Boxing Day to enable all of us to have more family time and to protect retail workers from being exploited.

Ms Jones, with the evidence of 100,000-strong online petition to back her up, spoke in a Parliamentary debate on the matter and urged MPs to support her idea that Boxing Day should become “a day of rest”.

Some chance of that coming to pass. I can hear the traffic building up to Meadowhall already. It stands to reason that Christmas is the most profitable time of year for the retail industry. None of us can operate on double standards; we want our town centres to thrive. If this means opening shops when people want to come and spend their money, then it would be counter-productive to close them on what is clearly one of the busiest days of the year.

Yet, the Sunday trading laws have been in existence for years now and remain steadfast on the issue of large retail outlets closing on the dot at 4pm or 5pm. If this can be set in stone and left untrammelled by attempts at reform, why can’t legislation be put in place to lay down some sensible rules about Boxing Day? There are currently no strictures regarding opening on December 26, unless it falls on a Sunday.

It is probably true to say that many retail managers would rather be at home with their families than getting up at 5am to open up shop the day after Christmas. Yet, if they don’t turn up to work, their stores stand to lose out against those which will be open. And we all know what happens to retailers who fail to keep up with the trends or respond to consumer demand. Nothing is sacrosanct in today’s cut-throat climate, not even former retail monoliths such as BHS which met its demise this year.

And of course, any attempts to reform the practices of bricks and mortar retail outlets would have no jurisdiction over online operations. This would mean that traditional retailers would lose out yet again to those who can operate round-the-clock 365 days a year on a global scale.

With respect with Ms Jones, I don’t think that any legislation passed in Parliament could make a jot of difference to these massive operations. That’s not the point though really. While ever our High Street stores open on December 26, the traditional Boxing Day will continue to be eroded by the desperate desire to buy more stuff.

I suppose you could argue that if people didn’t want to shop, the shops wouldn’t open. It’s up to us all then to take a few minutes out and consider what our precious time off over Christmas really should be used for.

It’s a lamentable trend of self-indulgent modern life, but too many of us are thinking that Christmas is yet another excuse for “me-time”. Instead of looking to our nearest and dearest, making memories for our children and helping our parents and elderly relatives feel happy and loved, we’d rather be pleasing ourselves. And every year this selfish attitude takes further hold.

That’s why I can actually think of something worse than Boxing Day sales. And that’s Christmas Day sales. Now this abominable practice really should be banned forthwith, with no petition and no need for Parliamentary debate.