I suspect that most people did not bat an eyelid during the summer holidays when the Chancellor, George Osborne, announced longer shop opening hours on Sundays. After all, you are all used to shopping on Sunday and have probably been inconvenienced by the current restrictions which allow shops to open for only 6 hours each day. But in fact, Sunday trading in this country was only relatively recently re-introduced; indeed, when I was growing up, there were no shops at all open on Sundays. And I had left university by the time that the Sunday Trading Act in 1994 allowed large shops, as well as small ones, to open for trading on a Sunday. This was, of course, in the pre-internet days; a shop which was shut could not be circumvented by an online order. If you were out of milk, you borrowed from your neighbour.
Arguably, the relaxation of the shopping laws in 1994 was the beginning of a fall from grace of the week’s day of rest. The notion of a day of rest every week in the Hebrew calendar goes right back to the biblical Sabbath, or as the Jews would say “Shabbat”. The Sabbath is detailed in the Book of Exodus, and referred to Saturday, the seventh day, the day that God finished his work to create the world, the day he sat down for rest and the day which Jews were told to “remember and keep holy”. In the Muslim tradition, the creation was a six day labour and resulted in the birth of Adam on the Friday, the holiness of Friday and in the observing of Friday prayers. And at some stage in the early history of Christianity, the first day of the week also became the eighth, and the Sunday day of rest was born, probably tied to the fact that the son of God arose from the dead on a Sunday. In much of the Western World, combining the Hebrew Sabbath with the Christian day of rest produced what we know now as the weekend. The so called traditional weekend was in fact only introduced in America in 1940 and steadily spread to Europe after that; there are plenty of countries who do not share this tradition even now.
Not so long ago, therefore, Sundays were genuinely for rest. You could not shop, go onto the internet, go to the cinema, go to a theme park; things simply weren’t open. There were only 3 television channels (even they shut down at midnight) and there were usually strict rules about watching the only television in the house, so that was not really an option either. So, in horror I hear you all say, what on earth did we do? Well, for many it was a bit of a lie in, church in the morning, a Sunday roast with the family, some lazing around in the afternoon – maybe some football in the garden with siblings, some board games, read a book, go for a long family walk down by the river, have some friends round, go to the park; nothing much. Week in, week out. It was simply just “being”.
In today’s world, it is much harder to find time to simply “be”. There is pressure in many places and temptation everywhere. Pressure of academic work; pressure of social lives; pressure of parents; pressure of an uncertain future; and, perhaps most insidious of all, pressure from within. There is temptation from the internet, ever present and easily accessible, from advertising, from round the clock television, from 24 hour access via social media. And there is an interesting dichotomy here – for the most part, you guys deal with this pressure and temptation brilliantly; it is second nature; you have grown up with it. My generation often cannot understand how you do it, having grown up as we did in a very different, slower, less connected and less complicated world. But perhaps more than ever, therefore, there is importance in saving time for yourself to just “be”; in switching off the mobile and the ipad; in turning off the telly; in not worrying about the work for a bit. Just have some time to yourself; read a book, as Mr Adams would urge; play a board game with a friend; go for a walk; spend time with the family. Mix this in with the business of daily life, strike a good balance and you will find that the rest looks after itself.