In Kamloops for the stage debut of Never Shoot a Stampede Queen at Western Canada Theatre.
In Kamloops for the stage debut of Never Shoot a Stampede Queen at Western Canada Theatre.

It was January 2 at about noon. I left the office to grab my daily ration of Coke and discovered my store was closed. So was the store around the corner. And the store down the block. I returned to the paper and declared that everyone in town had gone missing.

“They’re not missing,” said my friend Kate, the photographer. “They’re off for the holiday.” “What holiday?”

“What holiday would logically follow Boxing Day,” she asked and looked at me like I was an ignorant city slicker. I know Boxing Day is theoretically a holiday, but I think the only people who still manage to take that day off are Santa and Rudolph. Even the elves and Mrs. Claus line up at the North Pole mall at 6 a.m. to grab those gatecrasher specials. Before I could come up with some stupid answer like “New Year’s,” she hit me with the correct response: “Wrestling Day.”

I assumed this was another Cariboo tall tale created to abuse city slickers, something like the bear hoop trap or environmentalist duck hunters.

But Kate explained that Wrestling Day was a real honest-to-Cariboo cowboy holiday created in the 1950s to acknowledge one of the undisputed facts of life—that on the day after New Year’s, most of the cowboys are wrestling with hangovers. Since there were only a dozen merchants here back in the ’50s, it wasn’t tough to convince them all to take the day off.

I wrote that year’s annual tribute to the town’s glorious tradition and discovered Wrestling Day was first proclaimed an official civic holiday in 1959. With the exception of 1977, when city council briefly misplaced its sense of humour and cancelled the grand occasion, it had been celebrated religiously ever since. There were no Wrestling Day TV specials, songs or decorations, but the stores were closed, so were the banks, and all government employees took the holiday.

How do you celebrate Wrestling Day? I got a quote from an old-timer. “Relax. Nurse that hangover. Stay in bed. Visit friends. Don’t go shopping. And don’t work.”

Unless you work for a paper that publishes the next day.

One of the holiday’s founders, Syd Western—I am not making that name up—told the Trib a few decades earlier the idea of taking the day off “just became a habit.” And how could a Wild West town like Williams Lake possibly say no to the idea of a holiday created by a guy named “Western?”

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