Monday, August 08, 2011

Thou shalt have fun!

This article was written for publication in the Staffordshire Sentinel on Wednesday August 10th 2011.

It's holiday time! While the news revolves around riots, and global economic collapse, phone hacking and massacres, most of us are focussed on getting away from it all. Holidays are, of course, a complete waste of time. That's what we enjoy! While politicians may be criticised for being on holiday when crisis arises, and a Prime Minister forced to return home, most of us would rather sit by the pool or feed the seagulls.

Many of our fondest family anecdotes centre around holidays, whether it be Hi-De-Hi or Benidorm: fish and chips on the beach, ice creams, candy floss and seagulls, city sight seeing, cruises and all-inclusives, wet days at the seaside and sunburn in Disneyland, sand and sangria, airport delays and traffic jams, caravans and cable cars, stunning views. All of these frame cherished memories.

Have you ever wondered who invented holidays? It's not such a difficult question.

The word 'holiday' itself is just a shortening of 'holy day'. Holidays originated in the celebration of holy days, saints' days, religious festivals.
The first holiday of all has come to us from the Jewish tradition, with the weekly holy-day of the Sabbath. Yes - holidays are written into the Ten Commandments! For the Jewish people every Saturday commemorates the creation of the world. The Christian church took the idea and made Sunday, the day of Christ's rising from the dead, the day of the new creation, the weekly day of celebration and recreation.

The feasts of saints became also times of special celebration. The days after Christmas were piled up with saints - St Stephen (December 26th), St John (27th), Holy Innocents (28th) - to prolong the fun and frivolity!
Many parish churches - surely by deliberate choice - had saints days which fell in the summer months: Barnabas (June 11th), John the Baptist (24th June) Peter and Paul (June 29th), James (July 25th), Bartholomew (August 24th), and most important of all, Mary, August 15th, a day commonly known as "Our Lady in Harvest". The evening before the Church festivals there was a vigil of prayer - known as a 'Wake' - and so the time of partying on or after the festival was called the Wakes Week.

And this is probably the ancient origin of the 'Potters Holidays' - the first around the feast day of St Peter, the Patron of Stoke, the second in August, near the feast of Mary, Our Lady in Harvest.

In a time when there were no trades unions, or health and safety regulations, minimum wage and employment laws, it was the Church who stepped in and insisted that rest and recreation are an essential aspect of human life. It was time wasting made compulsory by order of the Church. The festivals established a basic human right that we cherish even today.

And there's an even more important reason.

It is all too easy to think that life is about getting and spending, having and consuming, working and being 'productive'. We live in a society which focusses on growth and the economy, which sees education as a preparation for work rather than for life, which knows the price of everything, but the value of very little. We measure traffic accidents in terms of journey delays rather than their consequences for life and limb. We talk of cutting waste and restructuring, rather than measuring effects on people and their families. Yet life is so much more.

And God says this: thou shalt rest. Thou shalt waste some time (once a week). Thou shalt have a holiday. Thou shalt have fun!

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