Sunday, September 03, 2006

For the Labor Day "Holiday"

According to Barbara Ehrenreich:

The festivities that filled up the late-medieval and early-modern church calendar comprised a world of regulary scheduled revelry that is almost beyond our imagining today. On Epiphany, Ascension, Pentecost, and Corpus Christ, as well as on Easter and Christmas and dozens of holy days, all work was forbidden in favor of vigorous celebration. In fifteenth-century France, one of out every four days was a holiday of some sort, usually dedicated religious ceremonies and more-or-less unsanctioned carryings-on. Weddings, wakes, and other gatherings furnished additional opportunites for conviviality and carousing. Then there were various local ceremonial occasions, such as the day honoring a village's patron saint or the anniversary of a church's founding. In the north of France in the sixteenth century, the celebrations fora new local church could last a full eight days. Despite the reputation of the Middle Ages as a time of misery and fear, the period, at least as compared to the Puritanical times that followed, can be seen as repeated bouts of hard labor punctuating one long outdoor party.
Barbara Ehrenreich, Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, Metropolitan Books, 2007.

As I get older, I find myself asking more and more: "What is life for?" Not in the adolescent, existential, or even religious sense of "Why are we here," but in the quotidian sense of "Why do we spend our days pursuing what we pursue?" What do we hope to gain when we "get there"? Where is "there" and why do we imagine it exists? It is good, to a point, to live according to what other people expect (such as wearing clothes in public, obeying traffic laws, being polite), but what's the rest of it for? So we can retire, and live another 25-35 years? Doing what? Again, I don't mean life is pointless after you retire, or even before, but sometimes we all seem so desperately driven to fill the hours as if we will lose them if we don't, and then we lose them because we do. And what drives us? What makes us think that this way, the "industrial way," is the way to joy? Why do we think there is a way to joy, that joy is far off and cannot be attained without this relentless effort?

Recent statistics pointed out Americans are producing more than ever but earn less for doing it. The rich are truly getting richer, and it's off the labor of those who produce at such a prodigious rate. But produce for what? A utopia that will someday come when none of us will have to work? A better flat screen TV, a faster computer processor, even easier internet access? Seriously, what are we doing all this for? And why do we imagine life was even harder when food had to be stored for the winter and gathered by hand and almost everything came from muscle power, be it animal or human muscle? I'd hate to give up antibiotics and dental hygiene, but why did we have to give up that feasts and festivals and celebrations?

Why is it "holiday" used to mean "holy day," which would mean a day set apart, pure, unsullied by daily cares and expectations, and now it means a day off of work for some people, but not many, and fewer and fewer every year? In fact for many it means twice as much work the next day, to make up for the time off. Which way are we going here? Backwards? Or forward?

UPDATE: MadPriest (he'll always be "Mad" to me!) has musical accompaniment. Which is much appreciated, as this site is pretty dull, otherwise. Always appreciate a little help from my friends.

No comments:

Post a Comment