Retail workers are “being bled dry” by “greedy employers”, supporters wrote on the petition’s web page.
Ian Lapworth, a baker from Kettering, started the campaign a month ago, calling for a return to a less commercialised holiday season.
“Forget making money for one day, let’s concentrate on making more memories with the ones we love,” he said.
Called “Stop Shops opening on Boxing Day”, the petition argues retail staff should get a longer break over the Christmas period. It will be delivered to Prime Minister Theresa May if it reaches 150,000 signatories.
“Whilst not everyone may see Christmas as a religious holiday, it should be respected as such, and retail workers (who work so hard on the run up to the big day) given some decent family time to relax and enjoy the festivities like everyone else,” the petition says.
Thirty or 40 years ago, shops stayed closed for longer periods during the holiday season. The trend in recent years is for retailers to extend their sales periods, opening early on Boxing Day to compete for customers requiring staff to return to work, sometimes after only one day off.
“I’ve worked in retail nearly 10 years. We never used to open and we shouldn’t,” wrote one of the petition’s signatories. She said she would rather spend more time at home with her son, but her contract obliged her to work.
“I’m not a doctor where I would be saving someone’s life. I’m a sales consultant. I sell clothing and other household items to people that quite frankly don’t have a life on Boxing Day.”
In centuries gone by, once Christmas Day festivities were over, the wealthy would parcel up gifts for their servants and tradesmen. The first working day after 25 December became a bank holiday, with businesses and shops closed to mark the custom, in the UK and Commonwealth countries.
Nowadays it’s many people’s favourite day to return unwanted Christmas gifts for a refund. Retailers hoping to draw out a bit of extra spending, began offering big discounts and now Boxing Day sales tend to merge seamlessly into what were previously January sales, helping companies off-load unsold seasonal merchandise.
One supporter of the petition said his work schedule meant he did not have time to enjoy Christmas.
“I am a retail manager and I haven’t spent time with family for Christmas since I was 15.
“I have to go to bed early on Christmas Eve due to being exhausted from setting up sales for Boxing Day and I have to go to bed early Christmas Day and avoid spending time with family or having any celebratory drinks, as I have to then work all the way through New Year’s as well.”
While some retailers may be tempted to respond positively to the petition, they’re unlikely to break ranks with the rest of the High Street, according to Patrick O’Brien, analyst at Verdict Retail.
“Some retailers might view the benefits of closure in staff morale, giving them a break. But it’s still quite an important day in the retail calendar.
“It wouldn’t hurt them if all of them did it, but unfortunately if some [close] and some don’t, the ones that don’t would be financially affected.”
The British Retail Consortium said companies would continue to respond to demand from shoppers, deciding opening hours “based on customers’ needs and preferences”.
“Boxing Day is a popular time to take advantage of the post-Christmas sales and retailers will respond accordingly to cater for this customer demand,” a BRC spokesperson said.
The petition coincides with the launch of Sainsbury’s Christmas advert which plays to a similar theme, of harassed workers, struggling to find time to enjoy the simple things over the festive period. In it an overworked father battles the queues in the shops, long hours at his workplace – a toy factory – and rail delays that many commuters will recognise.
It also comes at a time when retailers are reconsidering their Christmas sales strategies. In previous years much touted Black Friday sales saw vast crowds and chaos in some stores. The day was more muted last year, as companies toned down their sales pitches. But retailers still want to make the most out of shoppers’ enthusiasm for a bargain.
To that end Amazon has announced it is running two weeks’ worth of pre-Christmas promotions in the run up to “Black Friday” – the day after the American Thanksgiving holiday. In the US, it is the day the Christmas shopping season starts in earnest and retailers vie for the most eye-catching promotions.