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Dec 22, 2023

How Boxing Day became the biggest shopping day of the year

Dayna Lang
Author Dayna Lang

While shoppers in the US may not be familiar with Boxing Day, deal seekers in the UK and Commonwealth countries like Canada and Australia know that the day after Christmas is the best time to find the year’s lowest prices. The sales expectations of Boxing Day make it a critical day for retailers and advertisers alike

Boxing Day didn’t originate as a day of shopping. Once spent at home with family or watching sports tournaments, the annual day off has changed to take on a similar role to Black Friday in the US, making it the perfect opportunity for a shopping spree.

Although shopping isn’t the only activity done to celebrate Boxing Day, it has grown to be one of the activities for which Boxing Day is most known. With shopping at the front of so many consumer’s minds during this day, it’s interesting to think about where this tradition started and where it might go next. 

Where did Boxing Day come from?

Boxing Day is frequently likened to Black Friday in the US: a free day when families are together and have the day off work – a day often spent watching sports matches, eating leftovers, and venturing to the local mall for great deals. 

There are a couple of theories as to the origins of Boxing Day. The most common story is that the holiday comes from the annual opening of the alms boxes in churches. These charity boxes were traditionally opened on the day after Christmas, with their contents distributed to the less fortunate. 

The other theory is that Boxing Day’s name comes from the presents given to employees following the Christmas holiday; in large estates, staff were required to work on Christmas Day. In exchange, they would have the next day off to celebrate themselves. Employers would also typically give workers a gift or a bonus on the 26th, to show their appreciation for a year of hard work. 

A day off became more widely given on December 26 as workers moved into factories throughout the Industrial Revolution. In the 1700s, Boxing Day became a day for sports, with many aristocrats taking part in hunting, racing, and shooting; as the working class gained more money and leisure time, soccer (or football) became an equally popular Boxing Day pastime. 

Aside from domestic workers who would already have the day off, Boxing Day grew as a popular vacation day for factory and office workers, eventually becoming a statutory holiday. 

So, how did a day of sports and leisure become one of the biggest shopping days of the year?

The trend of shopping on Boxing Day is newer than many would imagine. Historically, it was taboo to shop on a Sunday, with many stores closed alongside the stock market. However, these attitudes started to change in the late 20th century, with the British government even amending trading laws in the 1990s. 

The change in trade laws opened the floodgates. If it was socially acceptable to shop on a Sunday, then it was socially acceptable to shop on a holiday. And since so many potential customers were off work and flush with cash from traditional Christmas and end-of-year bonuses, businesses sought to draw them in with sales. 

Boxing Day sales pivotal to end-of-year sales figures

Since the late 20th century, Boxing Day has only continued to grow, solidifying itself as the best time to score savings, with deeper deals offered every year. And as sales have grown, so too has retail’s reliance on Boxing Day as a source of income – an end-of-year boon to carry them into the new year. 

As a pivotal point in the retail calendar, Boxing Day also holds great importance for advertisers. Where there are sales, there are ads, and nailing a Boxing Day campaign has become vital to building a healthy foundation for the new year. 

Advertisers vie for the top spot each year, with the best creatives and most impactful targeting taking the prize and earning them the sales they need to end the fiscal year on a high note. 

View our top picks for the best holiday ads for 2023.


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