God rested on the seventh day, so why don’t we?



One of the ‘drastic’ proposals that many business, faced with the energy shortage and escalating prices, have put forward is to close on Sundays or at least limit the opening hours. Businesses such as local shops, the pubs, some petrol stations and the perennial Pennys!

I am up for it. Preferably not opening on Sundays at all. Surely 24/6 is enough to be getting on with. Enough for even this modern world where we seem to work frenetically 24/7 and where women have got a sort-of equal shot in the work place and where they — because, let’s face it, they still have to do all the other work that constitutes running a home and raising a family — might need to go shopping on a Sunday because on Saturday they are running here and there with carloads of children to swimming and dance classes and all that extra-curricular stuff. That’s if they, and the men who seemingly, superficially at least, share this frenetic workload and family rearing, are not actually working on a Sunday in this 24/7 world that we have so willingly, and out of alleged economic necessity, embraced.

I well remember a time when Sundays were sacred, when there wasn’t a shop open the length nor breadth of this land — bar, perhaps, the corner-shop for the Sunday papers. (It was as far back as March 7 in the year 321 — not sure what day that was — that the Roman Emperor Constantine issued a civil decree making Sunday a “day of rest from labour” stating: “All judges and city people and the craftsmen shall rest upon this venerable day of the Sun.”)

Nowadays, it seems, and I accept I am of that generation that is unfortunately heading towards, what one noted writer said recently was, a scenario where there’s a “culture of entitlement; a bitter, resentful sense that the world owes them something”, that we have come from one extreme to the other and, that apart from not much else in life being sacred these days, Sunday certainly no longer is.

Not so long ago BBC4 did a TV documentary on the vanishing Sunday of yore and showed there was a genuine hankering, and not just among older people, after what was the traditional Sunday. The one that was spent with perhaps a lie-in, then a leisurely fry-up and then off to church to meet God and neighbours alike. There was ritual, though not invariably, most often back then linked to religious practices – the word comes from the Latin ‘ritus’ (meaning usage, ceremony, observance).

Ritual. The smell of the Sunday roast wafting in from the kitchen — with mothers (back then!) doing all the leaning over hot stoves while fathers read their Sunday paper that did not come with a half-tonne of ‘extra-value add-ons’ that, nowadays, do little to enlighten us where it matters but only add to the world-wide onslaught on proud and mighty trees. Then, in the afternoon, weather permitting and for those lucky enough to have a ‘small family car’, it was a drive in the countryside when the countryside in its original guise still existed, before they paved paradise and put up the soulless shopping centres to which, today, it’s compulsory almost to go visit come Sunday.

What did you do on Sunday?

We went to that great new shopping centre off the new motorway.

Did you buy anything?

Eh, no, it was just somewhere to go.

And so it goes. Surely, Sunday should be that one day a week, after the hustle and bustle of the other six, when we sit back, take stock, regroup, give thanks and, even, God forbid, converse with each other. In short, take a deep breath and relax. Indeed, many working on Sundays in public service would give their right teeth to have that day off to spend time with family.

Maybe it’s just me. But then I’m of that generation that remembers Sing Something Simple on the BBC Radio Home Service. The show featured the most popular melodies of the then last 70 years, performed by the Cliff Adams Singers. Intended originally as a six-part summer ‘fill-in’ programme, it was an immediate success with the listeners and ran for 42 years — it didn’t actually cease till 2001 — earning itself the title of longest-running continuous music programme in the world.

It came on the radio at six. Just as we were sitting down to our Sunday tea.

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