My husband was just reading on Business Spectator, about the anachronism of government regulated, public holidays. The author, Caleb Samson, makes the point that, workers can make the choice for themselves if they want to work on a public holiday like Good Friday, for example in return for more pay or an extra day of leave.
This is a fair point. My husband and I work on public holidays regularly because we are self-employed, to the point where often we don’t even realise a public holiday is looming unless a client tells us that they can’t meet with us on such and such a day. But I still advocate public holidays, not for reasons of saving workers from meanie, profit-driven bosses (although there is probably still a place for this in some industries), but for social and communal reasons.
I have always liked Good Friday and, in the past before shops were open, Boxing Day too, for the very reason that they are, as the term says, “public holidays.” I love that everyone downs tools (well, everyone except emergency workers) and as a community, is sharing the same experience of a day off. Good Friday is so much better than a weekend because even the shops are closed, so we, as a community, are forced to take a break even from consuming, buying and shopping. I love the way that on Holy Thursday people stock up for the next day, thinking ahead in a way we just don’t really need to do any more. There is something really basic and simple about it. It’s like driving an old VW Beetle and hearing the gears actually crunch and shift each time you pull the handle – you are reminded that this thing you are operating is a machine with moving parts, not just a smooth, computerised system which divorces you from the experience of being alive.
I think it is good for us as a community to take a breath together. There is so little we have in common these days, and so much of what used to be locally driven, like support for new mothers, or helping old people with groceries, or aiding a disabled person, is now taken care of by state infrastructure. And that is good, and takes advantage of economies of scale, and guards against any one person’s lack of support. And it’s not that people don’t still help each other out – they do – but to me it feels like the glue that binds us together is just a little less sticky these days, as we go about our individual lives at times that suit us rather than times that suit the populus.
Sometimes it is just nice to know that everyone out there, beyond the walls of your own apartment, is having the same experience as you are.
It’s good to take time off, collectively. It’s good to be reminded that there are things to do with our spare time other than shop or eat out. It’s good that everyone is doing the same thing, maybe not together, but simultaneously and in a very physical, not just metaphysical sense – everyone is going to the park, or having a drink with friends, or cooking a pizza in the oven rather than over the phone. As we do these things on Good Friday, we know subconsciously that everyone else is too. That reinforces something that gave us humans the advantage over other species in the first place – that we are all members of a group.
We may not need to share the same religion, or know all our neighbours, or watch the same movies. But public holidays, the Masterchef Finale, and voting day, are what we have left.