Recalling my first Boxing Day Blowout extravaganza as a newly minted American expat living in Canada brings back memories of sleeplessness, blurry eyed crazed Canadians standing in minus 25 temperatures and packed parkades at 4 AM. (sidenote for Americans: A parking garage in Canada is a parkade. Yeah, I didn’t know that either.) Contrasting sharply with America, Christmas day in Canada is not for hitting the movies, watching the annual NBA holiday matchup or drinking yourself into a stupor and sleeping until Noon the next day. Preparing for the mad dash known as Boxing Day, the Canadian version of Black Friday, was all that counted.
Arriving for my first holiday dinner with new in-laws in Edmonton back in 2000, I discovered that families hung out with each other all day chatting about insignificant but conversational issues and watched the Yule Log while waiting for the big holiday meal. Strangely devoid of normal music, there was nothing but Christmas carols on the radio even on the classic rock station. Mystified, I opened the door to reach for the morning paper, but learned that the newspapers didn’t publish an edition on December 25th.
Stumped by this, I wondered how Canadians all over the city stopped working for twenty-four hours. Venturing out into the cold streets, I felt like they kidnapped me to an eerily quiet deserted snow-capped place where every business was closed including the gas stations and the local Seven-Eleven. Nobody walked anywhere because it was Edmonton in winter, cars had nowhere to go anyway and the only sign of life were the lunatics already lined up in front to of the electronics stores with camping gear, ready to freeze all night for a chance to save 20% on a new DVD player. Wow, how times have changed in only 14 years.
Originally set aside as a day of relaxation and family time for servants of wealthy Colonial era British imperialists, the day somehow morphed into a day for anybody besides Americans to go buy whatever they didn’t get for Christmas at rock bottom prices in exchange for waking up in the middle of the night. Or not bothering to sleep at all. Participating in this madness only once, I quickly learned that going to the office for one shortened day on December 26th in America beats fighting with thousands of frantic shoppers trying to save a few bucks.
Obviously misguided, one Christmas I decided it might be fun, maybe even exhilarating. Realizing that even early risers can’t get to sleep early enough to wake up fully rested after a huge holiday meal, I thought a bottle of wine would help. Sadly, it occurred to me that this was Edmonton and liquor stores, like all businesses, are closed on Christmas. Contemplating if we should crack open the emergency alcohol that every family has somewhere in the mantle, instead I opted for sleep but laid awake restlessly waiting for the alarm to ring at 4:15 AM.
Rising frantically, I saw Diane and her sister already in the kitchen giving me that look that wives give when their husbands partake in activities clearly reserved for the women. Showering quickly, we hopped in the car and headed down Calgary Trail to the string of electronics box stores skirting the city limits. Unable to even turn into the parking lot, we drove up and down, down and up, over and under, across and beyond searching for any parking spot but had no success.
After about an hour, the coffee started to wear off and we still hadn’t found any stores with parking for even a motorcycle. Naturally, it was about minus 26 anyway so not even Canadians attempted that mode of transport. Frustrated but not really surprised, the bosses instructed me to give up on the electronics door crashers and head for West Edmonton Mall. Larger than that giant monstrosity in Minnesota, WEM, as it’s affectionately known, is the world’s largest indoor shopping complex, complete with regulation size ice rink, full-sized indoor water park and live animal shows larger than SeaWorld. Sporting over 23,000 parking spaces, we finally pulled into a spot somewhere between The Bay and Sportcheck, albeit hours later than we’d hoped.
Being a newbie to this post-Christmas shopping madness, I figured the women had an in with some shopkeepers or knew some reason nobody drove anywhere near our current location. Walking into the mall, it finally dawned on me that although the doors were open, only the large department stores opened their doors early and even that wasn’t until 7 AM. Apparently nobody wakes up early to save a few loonies on an ugly holiday sweater, long underwear or any other clothing item sold in the Canadian version of Macy’s (Actually, it’s not Canadian anymore; practically nothing is as the Americanization of Canada is almost 100% complete, exactly the way the US government planned it.)
Fully exhausted at this point, we exited the car because you can’t sit in a parking lot during a northern Alberta winter morning without running the heat and gas was already low at this point. Roaming the eerily empty halls of West Edmonton Mall was almost surreal. Always packed beyond recognition during the holiday week, the aisles are usually like a downtown Tokyo street corner in rush hour. Gazing at the vast two-mile long row of emptiness without noisy families, teenage kids and visiting relatives brought on a sense of blissful peace for the first time all morning which we enjoyed for another ninety minutes while waiting for the department stores to open.
Leaving the Hot Tub Time Machine, I opened my eyes this morning somewhere around sunrise, which is almost 9 AM when you’re 350 miles north of the 49th parallel. Contemplating how much has changed with smartphones pushed on every member of the family practically as a birthright, I wondered what this year would be like. Having disappeared into the past like a CD player, there are no longer lineups at electronic stores, overnight campers marking their places in line and traffic jams on Calgary Trail five hours before sunrise on Boxing Day.
Since discovering how this newfangled internet generation thinks by exploring the “about” pages on hundreds of blogs, I’ve been soul-searching and wondering why Diane and I wasted 30 years in a cubicle instead of learning how to make “online income”. Clearly helpful in many aspects, being a child of the new millennium comes with many conveniences like simply buying anything you want online instead of standing in the frigid cold for hours once a year like an idiot. Luckily, I used my first year as house husband to get fit while waiting to hit age 50, the magical date that we file for our MM2H visa and retire to Malaysia.
Meanwhile, here in Canada, Boxing Day will always have its memories but here in 2014, I’m happy Diane and her sister get to watch the IIHF 2015 World Junior Championships live from the couch while ordering their Boxing day goodies on Amazon.com.
Happy Boxing Day to all from The Experimental Expats, loyal fans of the league’s worst team, half-Canadian and desperately longing for the tropics after one week here in the cold.
Hey Canada: Have any Boxing Day shopping stories to share?
We’d love to hear from you !!