A Brief Commercial Phenomenology of Christmas

Two Christmas posts on a blog by a lapsed Jew. Something must be wrong. Let’s pretend this one is about Boxing Day.

Now that I live in Canada and American secular holidays like Thanksgiving and the 4th of July aren’t in effect for the people around me, Christmas is probably the quietest day of the year on the internet. Quebec also (I think) has a law that closes most stores at 5pm on Christmas eve, allowing them to reopen sometime on the 26th. Restaurants and movie theaters and clearly some other similar institutions are excepted, and the metro still runs, so some people work, but it’s still a massive shutdown.

What’s interesting about this is that given the erosion of the sabbath as a meaningful commercial phenomenon, Christmas is pretty much the only day during the year where this is anything approaching a complete shutdown of businesses. Even newspapers don’t come. The response to this is an intensification of commercial activity on the days immediately preceding and following. We were struck by a long line at the SAQ (liquor store) on the 24th as we headed to the metro. People were waiting outside for 10 minutes or more to get in. Boxing Day here is more or less like Black Friday — it appears to be Canada’s largest shopping day of the year.

In other words, a single day without buying and selling is such a shock that it must be compensated for on either end. Of course the effect is largely ideological (or perhaps simply a result of poor planning on the part of some people) since many people can go for many days without buying anything. But still, there is something striking about how rare and strange the systematic and temporary cessation of commercial activity — for just one day a year — has become.