We long for rest from our increasingly frenetic lives. For those of us lucky enough to have regular days off, even weekends are a hustle of e-mails and errands. Our supposedly sacred civic holidays, like Thanksgiving, are being crowded out by commercial demands, forcing workers to report to stores for duty or to remain at the beck and call of professional obligations. Massachusetts students hoping for a snow day remind us of the joy of an unexpected day off. But otherwise, as a Commonwealth, we no longer have common days of rest.
Once we did, by law. The Massachusetts Bay Colony’s Sunday Sabbath laws prohibited commerce, limited activity, and required church attendance. This legacy now survives only in the vanishing “blue laws” that restrict Sunday commerce. Centuries later, we live in a vibrant and religiously diverse state where a common religious Sabbath isn’t something we would want the state to impose. And we wouldn’t want to face the fate of Aquila Chase and David Wheeler, charged in Ipswich Court in 1646 for gathering peas on Sunday.
But what if we recaptured the spirit of the day of rest for a world that needs it more than ever? People of many religious traditions and no religious tradition recognize the value of these shared moments of relief; after all, we will never cross boundaries to meet one another if we are never free at the same time. Our unique Suffolk County holidays need reformation. It’s time to transform our so-called hack holidays into something new: communal civic Sabbaths.
Currently, Suffolk County commemorates Evacuation Day on March 17 and Bunker Hill Day on June 17. Our new mayor should claim these and create two more Suffolk County holidays, one in the fall and one in winter. Four times a year, all Bostonians could have a shared day off to reboot, volunteer, or explore.
We need the power of our city government to help provide the respite that we cannot find on our own. With these new days of freedom, Boston will offer a national model for a healthy (and perhaps even holy) balance between work and rest.