Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Hooray for Boxing Day!

Why are Americans so stingy with holidays?

At most liberal count we have nine (9), and some of those are hardly honored. In a “land of plenty” we are starved for holidays.

Thanksgiving is always on a Thursday, but the obvious logic and desirability – nay, necessity -- of making Thanksgiving Friday a national holiday has eluded the states’ hardnosed holiday authorities.

And what could be more dreary than getting up the morning after Christmas with the thought, “Well, that was it till next year”, and going off to work? In England the day after Christmas, Boxing Day, is a holiday almost as festive as Christmas itself.

No less than 119 nations are observing a holiday today, December 26, 2006.

Russia’s New Year’s Holiday alone lasts six (6) days. The United States hasn't managed to create even a two day holiday.

A look at Japanese national holidays puts us to shame. I count 15 national holidays, not including various festival days . . . and popular but not officially recognized Christmas. What do we have to compare to Japan’s Golden Week, when four national holidays fall within a seven day period? And then there is The Obon week in mid August, one of Japan's three major holiday seasons, accompanied by intense domestic and international travel activities.

Do I hear you say, “But Americans can use part of their two week annual vacations to lengthen Christmas?”

Right. Two measly weeks. Typical.

France has not only eleven (11) holidays but five (5) weeks of paid vacation each year. In Sweden, Germany, Denmark, France, Austria, and Spain, workers have an average of six weeks of vacation per year. In Spain there is even an employment law allowing three weeks of paid honeymoon leave for the bride and the groom.

Each year Europeans work an average of up to twelve (12) weeks less than Americans.

What went wrong in America? There’s a saying that Americans live to work , while Europeans work to live. For a real explanation we’d have to look to historians who’ve devoted themselves to the subject, but in this personal blog I’ll just mention that in the course of my education I frequently heard the phrase, “Protestant work ethic”, or “Puritan work ethic”, a Calvinist value emphasizing the necessity of constant labor in a person's occupation as a sign of personal salvation.

Wherever the idea came from, the “God punishes idleness and rewards endless hard work” mentality has cursed Americans for generations. It is illustrated by the success stories of our pantheon of 19th and 20th Century industrial and financial heroes, whose proud boast was likely to include leaving school at the age of nine to work 17 hours a day, and not having taken a day off work for 29 years. The reward of becoming a multi-millionaire was assumed to include a guaranteed trip to Heaven as long as some philanthropy was thrown in at the last minute as a safety measure.

(Andrew Carnegie, born in Scotland, son of a weaver, at age thirteen went to work as a bobbin boy in an American cotton mill. Henry Ford left his farm home at age sixteen to work as an apprentice machinist in Detroit. )

As I’ve said, there are people who are actually qualified to talk about differences in national attitudes, but in my own blog I can do as I please, and I will speculate that growing up in a country with people like Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller as the idealized highest stratum encourages a very different attitude from one inspired by growing up in a country in which monarchy and a traditional aristocracy comprised the highest stratum.

It is the very hallmark of kings and aristocrats that they do NOT have to work. Indeed, most of the aristocrats of the world have sneered at work in order to enhance their conspicuous displays of superiority. I suspect, then, that those not fortunate enough to share in the wealth and idleness of their native aristocracies nevertheless envy idleness, and go to their jobs only out of necessity rather than in the American belief that God loves and rewards those who work and punishes those who do not.

Hooray for Boxing Day and Golden Week!

1 comment:

  1. Over here, I don't know how many public holidays there are, but people take days off before Christmas, between Christmas and New Year, and into the first week of January. The roads are empty. But at this time of year I have always felt the public holidays are enough, and the best place to be is at work, because it is so dark and dead outside. Spring and summer are the time for holidays!