Before they were enshrined in law, many of the days that are now statutory holidays were observed as 'customary holidays'. Businesses closed and everyone took the day off, usually to join in community festivities. Christmas Day was one such day, but when it fell on a Sunday – usually a day of rest – the following day was sometimes taken off instead. This Nelson newspaper article of 1859 explains how Boxing Day will be 'generally observed' as a holiday, with various entertainments planned, including a cricket match and a steamboat excursion.
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National Library of New Zealand, Papers Past
Reference: Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 24 December 1859, p. 2
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