Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Christmas Day Kick Offs

Posted on 24 December 2020 by Xander Chevallier

Tomorrow, albeit in very different circumstances, most of us will be tucking into Turkey and pulling crackers. Boxing day matches have been a longstanding tradition throughout British sport, however, in some sports, it’s Christmas Day when the games are taking place. Here’s a rundown of all the professional sporting events that are taking place on the big day, with a few amateur gems thrown in.

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Matches on Christmas Day have been a tradition for almost as long as the National Basketball Association has been in existence. The NBA’s first season was in 1946, and the Christmas Day games started a year later, with games played almost every year since.

The first match on the 25th December saw the New York Knicks defeat the Providence Steamrollers 89-75 at Madison Square Garden, back when there was only one match on the holiday day.

Ever since then the number of festive matches has increased, with the NBA Christmas Day games becoming an annual tradition. Canadian law prevents the National Hockey Law (NHL) from playing matches between the 24th and 26th, while Major League Baseball (MLB) is in it’s offseason. The National Football League (NFL) typically doesn’t arrange matches for the big day, meaning the NBA dominates the holiday in the United States.

This year the league only started on 22nd December, but already they’ll be five games on Christmas Day that span almost 12 hours. Tip off is at midday (all times are US Eastern Time) as the New Orleans Pelicans take on the Miami Heat. This is followed by the Warriors v Bucks at 2.30pm, Nets v Celtics at 5pm and the Mavericks v Lakers at 8pm.

The late game of the Clippers against the Nuggets doesn’t tip off until 10.30pm, so for those who quickly get bored of spending time with their family, basketball is available to watch almost all day.


The NFL typically chose not to move matches for Christmas Day. Instead the league’s biggest annual tradition always comes on Thanksgiving Day, with the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys always hosting matches on the fourth Thursday in November.

However, this doesn’t mean matches are never played on the holiday. The NFL usually plays its matches on a Thursday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday night. If Christmas Day falls on one of those days, then there will be a Christmas Day game. If it doesn’t, then typically there won’t.

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The first Christmas Day games didn’t come until 1971, when the first of two of the divisional playoff rounds were held on the 25th. Dallas overcame Minnesota in the first match, while Miami beat Kansas City in what was and still is the longest game in the history on the league.

Due to this, the NFL received many complaints about it causing havoc to Christmas dinner schedules, meaning the league didn’t host another Christmas Day game until 1989. When they did restart, they scheduled the game between Cincinnati and Minnesota for the evening, in order to avoid family dinners.

This experiment was a success and ever since, the league has held a match on the big day if it fits in with their schedule. This year, Christmas falls on a Friday which is a day they typically wouldn’t play on.

However, the league has made the decision to delay the Thursday Night Football slot until Friday the 25th, so 2020 will have the 20th Christmas Day NFL game. The match sees the six win, eight loss Minnesota Vikings travel to the already Playoff qualified New Orleans Saints. It’s a matchup that has always produced crackers in recent years (including the a game dubbed the Minneapolis Miracle), so it seems fitting that this match is played on the festive day.


It used to be a major tradition to host football matches on Christmas Day, as it was one of the few public holidays that all workers were given a day off. Back in the Victorian era, there’d be a full set of games on both Christmas Day and Boxing Day!

There are still many countries around the world, predominantly non-Christian ones, that host fixtures on the day. Sadly, these are less frequent this year due to many leagues ‘catching up’ on last season’s COVID impacted campaigns.

The last Christmas Day match in England saw Blackpool beat Blackburn in 1965. Scotland used to only play league games on a Saturday and so, similar to the NFL, in 1971 Christmas Day fell on a Saturday meaning a full set of fixtures were played.

The last matches in Britain on the big day happened in 1976 when Alloa played Cowdenbeath and Clydebank took on St Mirren in the Scottish Second Division.

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Despite all of these, the most famous football match on Christmas Day happened in 1914, when British and German soldiers along the Western Front began singing carols to each other on Christmas Eve. A day later, they stopped shooting and played an impromptu match on the land that they continued to fight on only a day later.

Amateur Events

It’s not just the professionals that take part in Christmas Day competitions, there are plenty of amateur events that usually take place but sadly won’t this year because of the pandemic.


Ever since Parkrun’s inception in 2004 there has been a Christmas Day event across multiple countries.

In 2019, the inaugural Parkrun at Bushy Park in Teddington had over 2,000 people complete the 5k course followed by mince pies and Prosecco at the finish line. In the UK alone, over 100,000 people started their Christmas Day with a parkrun.

Festive Swims 

Christmas Day dips happen all over the country, pretty much wherever there’s a coastline.

The commonly agreed Christmas swim began with Brighton Swimming Club in 1860 with hundreds popping up around the UK in recent years.

Fancy dress is becoming increasingly popular with estimations of around 500 people braving the dip in Redcar alone, along with around 5,000 spectators.

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Feature image credit: Kirt Edblom