You get less holidays than a medieval peasant…

Hopefully, you are enjoying your bank holiday weekend. As you look forward to returning to your toil on Tuesday you may find this article by Business Insider cruel comfort.

Plowing and harvesting were backbreaking toil, but the peasant enjoyed anywhere from eight weeks to half the year off.

The Church, mindful of how to keep a population from rebelling, enforced frequent mandatory holidays. Weddings, wakes, and births might mean a week off quaffing ale to celebrate, and when wandering jugglers or sporting events came to town, the peasant expected time off for entertainment. There were labor-free Sundays, and when the plowing and harvesting seasons were over, the peasant got time to rest, too.

In fact, economist Juliet Shor found that during periods of particularly high wages, such as 14th-century England, peasants might put in no more than 150 days a year. As for the modern American worker? After a year on the job, she gets an average of eight vacation days annually.

Go back 200, 300, or 400 years and you find that most people did not work very long hours at all. In addition to relaxing during long holidays, the medieval peasant took his sweet time eating meals, and the day often included time for an afternoon snooze.

“The tempo of life was slow, even leisurely; the pace of work relaxed,” notes Shor. “Our ancestors may not have been rich, but they had an abundance of leisure.”

So while we have never been healthier or richer I think we should take some inspiration from the work practices of our ancestors. And on the plus side, we don’t have to cope with famine, low life expectancy and the occasional war.

The bigger question, of course, is why we all work so much? The UK now has the longest work hours in the EU for full-time workers. Normally we put the blame on Protestant work ethic but the Nordic countries are overwhelmingly Protestant and they have shorter working weeks and more holidays.

Given the massive influence of Ulster Scots on American society maybe we are the blame for the epidemic of the long hour’s culture?

How many hours do you work a week? Are you taking all your holidays?


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