Public holidays

I visited England with my family shortly after Christmas. It was a strange sort of holiday; we were in celebratory mood because of New Year and my birthday, but in sombre mood too, since my mother was in hospital throughout that period.

I got a mixed impression of the state of the British health services. She was well treated, but the hospital was seriously understaffed, due to all the public holidays at that time (Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day etc.)  and due to so many people taking days off work between Christmas and New Year. To make matters worse, hospitals are always busier than usual at that time of year: local health services are closed on public holidays, more people fall ill or have accidents in the cold weather, and so on. As a result, my mother was in her hospital bed for two weeks rather than one. She only got home after we had returned to Finland. We all felt frustrated at the situation.

Several local restaurants and hotels were also closed, which further complicated our trip. I’ve always found public holidays annoying: if I’m off work, it’s impossible to get important jobs done, and if I’m at work, the week’s rhythm is disrupted. 

On the other hand the alternative is even worse: services available 24/7, people forced to work flexibly at antisocial times, further disruption to family life, a never-ending consumption of our planet’s resources. A disproportionate number of people who work on public holidays, in the evening or at weekends are in lower-paid jobs, too.

Our society already places so much value on work at the expense of leisure.  We have these public holidays for a reason: to rest. Many of them were originally church holidays. Others are connected to our past and heritage, such as Independence Day. Thank goodness the days around Christmas and Easter, for example, are still holidays for most people. I hope they preserve their value and remain days of rest for most people, despite the disruption they cause.

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