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In Defence of Bank Holidays
8th June 2012
Many of us will feel quite surprised that today is Friday. The short working week following the Jubilee has had a disorientating effect, throwing us out of our natural rhythms. This ‘break’ in the everyday pattern of life allows us time to be with friends and family, to celebrate and relax. However, the predictable cry that bank holidays are bad for productivity and bad for the economy means we often feel faintly guilty. Sure, we might be able to tell ourselves that we're more hard working than our continental cousins (depending on how you cut the numbers), but over in the indefatigable USA they get almost no public holidays and barely any paid leave.
How do we justify taking time off to celebrate? Theologically, the discipline of rest and celebration is deeply rooted in a Christian model for life. In the very earliest chapters of the bible God takes time out from his work and celebrates what he has done. Leviticus 23 spells out seven annual feasts that Israel were to mark as ‘holy days’ or feast days. They would come before God in the temple, feast and celebrate, rest and remember the stranger. These days were designed to break the pattern of life, to help the people of God remember all that God had done and all that He had promised; where they’d come from and where they were heading. The celebrations of the Christian church- Easter, Christmas and recently Pentecost should have the same effect. Other faiths observe similar holidays with their own patterns of rest and rejoicing. Our own celebrations: birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, house warnings and goodbye parties can be the same kind of gifts if we celebrate them intentionally, noticing their meanings. 60 years on the throne for our Queen was a wonderful opportunity for the nation to get together and rejoice, to think about how much has changed and also how much hasn’t.
This Christian vision of the human person and a flourishing society is deeply realistic. It shows that 'work/life balance' is not a new idea. It recognises our physical and psychological makeup, and acknowledges that that people are not linear but cyclical. The best thinkers in productivity theory agree- we are most effective when we adopt work/rest cycles. We are not like machines, able to keep going in one direction at one speed until we fall apart. We need rest, time for gratitude, time for community, time for contemplation. The pragmatic utilitarian perspective, revealed in the predicatable 'Ban Bank Holidays' press releases, values only outputs and quantifiable gains. This is too narrow, and naive about how people work. Time is not, as the saying goes, money, though it may be wealth.
The discipline of rest and celebration forces us to get out of our rat runs and tram tracks, take a breath and look around us. Modelling both committed, passionate excellent work (for we are surely called to work) and the discipline of celebration points to something true and nourishing for us all.