Holidays, Vacations and Capitalism

I’ve always appreciated the distinction that somehow I feel exists more in British English than in American, between a holiday and a vacation. While the former is prescribed, usually by the state, the latter is a personal choice. There are only a few holidays each year, but vacations can be taken at any time. And though I might feel guilty about over-vacationing or untimely-vacationing, at least I’m able to will my time off and don’t have to wait for instructions.

It has been a while since my last post. What started as a holiday quickly tumbled into a vacation. As I returned to the Czech Republic over Christmas break, the holiday began on the 24th. The prescription was slivovice, which is exceedingly strong plum brandy, and many things fried, including of course the national Christmas dish of the Czechs, carp.

Needless to say the festivities were quite festive. My cheeks reddened as the hours passed, and Ježíšek (i.e., baby Jesus, the region’s version of the gift-giver) made me happier than an Austro-Hungarian in a file cabinet.

Now I have returned to Warsaw, land of communion, prefabricated blocks of concrete and ethereal dreams ruptured.

Low-blows aside, I love this city. But today I was reminded of a peculiar habit of religious people. Or at least Christians. Or at least the kind of Catholic that tends these parts of the continent. They don’t work on holidays – unless of course they work in public transportation. Legally, holidays are non-working days. And today is the day of Epiphany, or Objawienie Pańskie as it’s referred to here. Now although I don’t mean to trumpet the value of money over the value of eternal life, I do think that it’s odd that a country and a people that in so many other ways have embraced the ethos of capitalism (e.g., Poland self-identifies as the 51st US state) still find the time to not work on all these prescribed holidays. To a certain extent I understand banks and government offices and what not being shut down (though, again, if the state determines that buses and trains still have to function…). What I don’t understand is that if you walk outside today, there is basically nothing open. No shops, no restaurants, no anything – only flower shops because cemeteries are prime destinations on days like today.

It isn’t just that the country is losing tons of revenue when everything shuts down, which of course it is and this being a crisis and all… It’s also that small business models all over Poland are exposed as wanting. It seems to me that today would be a great day for a business to be open in that all the potential competition is not open. Take advantage of small windows, exploit opportunities, these are some of capitalism’s favorite things. And it’s just rather parochial that the principles of the market are fully embraced right up until the state or religious holiday comes around. Or even any Sunday.

I feel a little bit like a slimy turn-of-the-20th-century industrialist criticizing like this. And one good response to my critique (and I admit there are many) would simply be to say that a healthy balance in life is a good thing and taking time out to remember some of the non-material things is noble. Which is true. And I cannot argue really with that. The unfortunate case remains, however, non-material things can’t feed you. Non-material things can’t put your finances in the black. There is very little difference between a city shutting down because of a snow storm and a city shutting down because of religious prescriptions. Obviously physical damage could happen in the snow storm, but the larger effects of the two scenarios are the same. Nothing really happens and if I run out of milk I better have a neighbor around who’s willing to barter.

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One Response to Holidays, Vacations and Capitalism

  1. erpegison says:

    It is perhaps weird but many Poles actually honesty believes that if they work on a Epiphany they face eternal damnation. It is not a ‘holiday’ but actual ‘holy day’.

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