Although I’m a relatively young guy myself, I’m still old enough to remember the days before Sunday Trading and late night trading (other than on Thursday nights) for big retailers really took off. Eventually, under the guise of “rights”, big retailers were allowed to extend their opening hours to include these times. However, at least they were still obliged to remain closed on Easter Sunday, Christmas Day and St. Stephen’s Day.
Then the recession happened. Never allowing a good crisis to go to waste, the big retailers started to claim that they couldn’t afford to close those days and that they needed the boost in business to survive or otherwise they would go bankrupt, or their employees would starve, or that the economy would collapse…or something. So, 2 or 3 years into the recession, they started to open up on Stephen’s Day and my faith in humanity has seen a corresponding drop ever since.
I’m just going cut to the chase and say it outright. It absolutely fills me with disgust to see stores opening today. Christmas is probably the most important date in our calendar and Stephen’s Day has always been an important part of Christmas. Seeing it devalued like this is a disgrace. My childhood memories of Christmas include Stephen’s Day as much as Christmas Day itself. It saddens me to know that if I ever have a family of my own, that when my kids are old enough to get their first part time job (which chances are will be retail), they’ll be forced to sacrifice their own Christmas experience in order to serve the insatiable needs of the shoppers in this country, who a few years back, were perfectly capable of waiting until the 27th to get back to the stores.
You see as much as I would like to focus on the here and now. As much as I would love to just live in the moment, I just can’t do that. I think longterm, and longterm, I know this will cause me or people I care about unhappiness, even if I don’t have to work the day myself. See, I have something called empathy. Even if I’m insulated personally, I can still feel bad for others.
Sure I’ve already seen friends of mine being forced to work this day and I’ve seen how it’s ruined their holiday. After an exhausting 2 months building up to Christmas, they literally just get the one day off to recover and are then forced in again next day to start all over again. How can this possibly be fair?
I have of course heard all the myths about this day.
Myth 1: People are happy to work the day because it’s extra money over the holidays.
Response: Bullshit. Some people are happy (mainly those who don’t celebrate the holiday) but in my experience, most people who do celebrate the holiday would rather have it off. This is especially true in the cases of those who work in Dublin or the other big cities, but live in the country (ie. a lot of students). These people would rather spend the holidays with their families back home, rather than having to stay in their city dwelling alone, just so they can get into work on time.
Myth 2: It’s voluntary and staff are well compensated.
Response: False. It was voluntary back in the earlier years of its inception, but now it’s just another day. As for the compensation. Obviously I can’t speak for every retailer out there, but from those I do know, it isn’t any better than the average Sunday/Public holiday allowance.
Myth 3: The business needs the money. If they don’t open, they could collapse.
Response: They managed to survive for many years without opening on Stephen’s Day, even the particularly painful first couple of years of the recession. They can survive just fine now. It’s just greed that causes them to open up. Oh and to be blunt, if any business is so on the verge of collapse that they can’t survive not opening on this day, then clearly their business model is bust, and they should just throw the towel in with dignity and walk away.
Myth 4: It’s not a big deal. Plenty of people already work today like doctors and guards and fire fighters Not to mention people who work in bars and restaurants.
Response: Retail is not an essential service. It can’t be compared to those. As for bars and restaurants, they shouldn’t be forced to work either. I’m well aware of the fact that they’ve been working this day for years. Doesn’t mean that everyone else should be forced to. In my ideal world, they wouldn’t have to do so either.
Myth 5: It’s not a slippery slope at all. Businesses won’t ever start opening up on Christmas Day and Easter Sunday.
Response: Wait a few years and I’ll be proven right in my predication here. As we become a more multicultural and less Christian society, I can guarantee you that at some point there will be a challenge to the sacred position of these two days in our calendar as “Not being representative of modern Ireland” and eventually seeing them given no more importance than Eid or Passover or any other non-Christian holidays. Just you watch. It will happen.
Myth 6: If people aren’t happy working in a job which requires working on Stephen’s Day, they should just go get another job.
This is probably the most condescending arrogance of all. Besides the fact that not everyone is fortunate enough to have the opportunity to just walk in to a job with better terms, there are in fact plenty of people who are paying their dues (either students studying in college, qualified teachers covering a few classes for experience , trained IT specialists doing unpaid internships part time etc) who are working towards getting the job that they really want. Just because they haven’t gotten there yet, does that mean they should be screwed over unnecessarily now? What about when they do eventually move on? Should the next batch of young students who replace them be forced to suffer as well while they work towards getting their own education and experience?
RIP Stephen’s Day as a day for family and friends. If only we had appreciated you more when we had the chance.