It was chaos in Boston once again this past Sept 1st. No, not because of the Patriots, or the Red Sox, or any sort of civil demonstration. Instead, this was just the latest edition of an annual event.
“Bedlam descends upon the Boston area every Sept. 1,” the Boston Globe explains. “Moving vehicles clog the streets, parking is a nightmare, and sidewalks are buried in trash and household items. The cause of this annual headache is known as Allston Christmas, a moving day made popular by identical contracts where an estimated two-thirds of the city’s 165,000-plus apartment leases turn over.”
What? Over 100,000 moves happening on one day? In one town?? Why would any city put their people through such a crazed ordeal?
The reason, ironically, is a matter of practicality. The city’s huge college student population is a major component of the citizenry, and it is only natural that they’d all be moving back to school at the same time.
What’s the logic?
The logic goes that with everyone’s leases ending and beginning on the same day, there are no renters stuck having to wait a few weeks between apartments and no pressure for others to break leases early in order to get into their next place. It’s a highly-visible (and, arguably, insane) solution to the unavoidable college student situation.
Sept. 1st is also when families with school children need to get moved in, claims the Globe (apparently unaware the majority of families moving to and from the rest of the country seem to prefer June). But the tradition, dating back decades, “was almost certainly dictated by the market demand of the area’s many college students,” we are told.
“It makes it difficult to manage,” adds realtor Edward Zuker. “But that’s what the market is.”
Damn college students.
New York City once had a moving day like Boston
But unlike their counterparts in New England, New Yorkers had common sense and the guts to stand up to a bunch of college kids and were able to do away with the idea.
Actually, moving day in New York seems to have originated with a custom in the Netherlands where, the Encyclopedia of Chicago tells us, servants would change employers at one of two annual hiring fairs. These took place in early May and November, and, for reasons not given, Dutch immigrants settled on May 1st as the day to continue tradition – which may or may not have had any practical value in the New World, but no one seems to have put up a stink about it.
That is, until 1922, when new rent laws went into effect, protecting renters from being kicked out of their places every year. We also see in this New York Times article from May 2 of that year that there was some competition among landlords who were lowering rents along the fashionable Concourse in the Bronx down from $23 to $22 or even $20 a room. Meanwhile, side street rooms were going for $13 to $15.
Ah, the good old days.
In Chicago too we see that May 1st was, as early as the 1840s, the day to move. Giving credence to the idea that some traditions simply should be done away with, the Encyclopedia of Chicago describes moving day as “a very unpopular event, with families facing greedy landlords, exorbitant rates charged by movers (known as expressmen), and the risk of breakage and loss of furniture and belongings.”
We’re not sure much has changed.
North of the border in Quebec, Canada, we see the moving day tradition is alive and well. The history here goes back even further, to the middle of the 18th Century when the French colonial government of this “New France” forbade the semi-feudal landlords of the time to evict their tenants before the winter snows had melted. By 1866 this had evolved into a requisite
of the Civil Code that urban leases begin on May 1st and end on April 30th.
This was fine with everyone for about a hundred years until it was decided that May 1st as a moving day was much too inconvenient for families with children in school. (Damn students again.) Thus in 1973, the Quebec government moved Moving day to July 1st – which, incidentally, is also Canada Day.
Now it may sound silly to make all those people move when they would rather be out celebrating Canada’s birthday. But this Toronto Sun article suggests that those French-speaking Quebecers, particularly those in Montreal, aren’t much interested in Canada Day.
We won’t get into that conversation.
We will say that, for all craziness of the summer season, we sure are glad that the millions who move do it over the course of a few months instead of all on one day.
Now if we could just convince a bunch of colleges and universities to start their school year in the middle of the slow season…