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Unboxing Barrie's Boxing Day traditions (4 photos)

Mary Harris thinks hurtling down a hill on a toboggan sounds far less scary than visiting a busy mall on Boxing Day in this week's Remember This

One Dec. 26, not too many years ago, I drove to the Georgian Mall, a place I can practically see from my home in the adjoining Tall Trees neighbourhood. Finding not one vacant parking space in that vast but crowded lot, I suddenly remembered that I knew of the ideal spot to leave my car.

I returned home, parked my car in my own driveway and walked back to the mall.

On Boxing Day this year, I am happy to leave the too-good-to-pass-up deals to the real bargain hunters.

It wasn’t always this way. Up until the mid-1970s, about the same time as the age of the sprawling shopping mall dawned, widespread Boxing Day madness didn’t really exist. Clearance sales, variously connected to terms such as inventory, year-end, January or post-Christmas, were common enough but not in the big way we see today.

In fact, in Eileen Dixon’s Skirting the Bay column in the Barrie Examiner of Dec. 26, 1964, the reporter considered several ways in which Boxing Day related to the people of Barrie, none of which was shopping.

“Today is Boxing Day and most people (except newspaper reporters) are enjoying a long holiday weekend. In fact, this is what Boxing Day means to most people … just another holiday.”

She took a humorous track and suggested that the boxing part might refer to a mother packaging up all the ill-fitting Christmas gifts in order to stand in a long line to return them, or perhaps it relates to a father shoving a box of unfashionable neckties into a dark dresser drawer never to be seen again!

In the end, Ms. Dixon did admit that she knew full well what origins of the day are.

“The first Boxing Day originated in Great Britain and was celebrated the first weekday after Christmas. It began as a legal holiday on which Christmas boxes were given to postmen, milkmen and other indispensable friends.”

The history of the day is much older than the British tradition. Boxing Day falls on St. Stephen’s Day on the Christian calendar. Stephen was an early convert to Christianity and was martyred for his faith. His tradition of giving food and money to the poor on the day after Christmas carried on long after his death.

The well-known Christmas carol ‘Good King Wenceslas’ mentions how this 10th-century Bohemian duke donated firewood and food to a poor man on the Feast of Stephen.

More recently, for many years, Boxing Day in Barrie was a quiet day mostly spent at home decompressing from the cooking, shopping and rushing around that had led up to Christmas Day.

Some folks took part in the Barrie Gun Club’s annual Boxing Day hunt and came home with rabbits and the occasional fox.

Examiner reporter Tony Keene took a look at a typical Barrie Boxing Day in this Dec. 27, 1968 piece.

“Boxing Day is usually a day for trying out Christmas gifts. Ice skates were always every child’s dream gift, and toboggans and skis join skates under many a Christmas tree.”

He described a fun afternoon on an Adelaide Street hill where kids and parents tried out new outdoor toys. Along with the traditional wooden toboggans and sleds with metal runners, there were “novel types of snow toys” like the metal flying saucer and a “futuristic” moulded plastic sled. Some children simply used a cardboard box to join in the activities.

“The hill was covered in hard-packed snow but over this was a covering of light newly fallen snow. Every time a skier lost his balance or someone lost control of a hurtling toboggan, the site of the disaster was marked from afar by a white explosion and bouncing bodies.”

Sounds a little scary but so does a trip to a large mall on Boxing Day.

Each week, the Barrie Historical Archive provides BarrieToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past. This unique column features photos and stories from years gone by and is sure to appeal to the historian in each of us.

Mary Harris

About the Author: Mary Harris

Mary Harris is the Director of History and Research at the Barrie Historical Archive. The Barrie Historical Archive is a free, online archive that centralizes Barrie's historical content.
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