Friday, 5 July 2013

Part XLVI - A Different Twist on Holidays

This is a series about a book, Theory of the Leisure Class, written by American economist Thorstein Veblen and published in 1899.   Chapter Twelve is titled Devout Observances.

In economic theory, according to Veblen, sacred holidays are a period of vicarious leisure performed in the name of a divinity or saint.  The prohibition from all useful human effort on these days is to increase the good reputation of said divinity or saint.  In the case of fast-days, compulsory abstinence includes consumption that would contribute to the comfort or ‘fullness of life’ of the consumer.  He says
“Un saint qu’on ne chôme pas [a saint that is not idle - or perhaps just one that doesn't have their own holiday?] is indeed a saint fallen on evil days.”

Veblen points out that even secular holidays ‘shade off’ from those of a religious nature.  They tend to be marked by the birthdays of ‘kings and great men who have been in some measure canonized’ or to add to the good repute of some notable event or act, or to aid some striking fact whose good fame is in need of repair, eg Labor Day.  

I’d never given much thought to Labor Day until a friend from Slovakia remarked about how touchy people were about May Day.  It was a revelation to me that this ancient spring festival is also International Workers’ Day.  

1 comment:

Beryl said...

I had never thought about the origin of most of our holidays - what an interesting conclusion.
When I think of May Day, I think of leaving flowers on peoples' door knobs and of those fancy schools where the girls in white dresses dance around the May Pole twirling ribbons. Simpler times.