Veronica Zundel believes we need both a smattering of special moments and the more mundane in our lives
It has been a tradition in my family for many years to go out to the theatre for a show or ballet in between Christmas and New Year. It has also been a tradition for something to go wrong, which means that we end up unable to go, or not enjoying it as much as we might. There was the year when almost everyone had flu and the healthiest had to stand in the theatre queue trying to sell off the surplus tickets.
Then there was the year when, on our way to Sadler’s Wells, going up what is possibly the highest escalator in the Tube at Angel Station, we were involved in an accident where an ill-supervised pack of ten-year-olds on a school outing collapsed like dominoes onto us below them, due to two of them messing about on a higher stair. Our son, then six, had his hand trodden on, and was lucky not to be crushed under piles of big children, my toe was injured and bleeding into a hole in my tights, while my shoe was several steps lower, and we were only saved by the presence of mind of hubby, who shouted to the man at the bottom to press the Stop button.
One might deduce from this that God does not approve of frivolous entertainment, even at Christmas, but I would hesitate to conclude this. Ecclesiastes, that most curmudgeonly of biblical writers, says of human beings that “I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live” (Ecclesiastes 3:12, NRSV); and although he refers to taking “pleasure in all their toil” (which was pretty much all the average person had then), he also talks a lot about taking pleasure in eating and drinking, in which one might include feasting. We know that the Jewish calendar was full of feasts and high holy days, only one of which (Yom Kippur) was sombre, and even that was immediately followed by a slap-up meal.
Medieval peasants had approximately 150 ‘holy days’, or saints’ days, in their year, giving them considerably more holiday, or at least days off, than modern workers. And they certainly filled some of them with entertainment, putting on mystery plays or simply dancing the day away.
A necessary rhythm for life
I’ve just finished reading Working from a Place of Rest by Tony Horsfall, recently re-issued by Bible Reading Fellowship. It’s largely geared to full-time Christian ministers, but I gleaned some insights from it for my weird life of semi-retired freelance writing. The main one is that we are frail human beings and need rest to function properly. And rest includes recreation, or re-creation: activities that help us see the world afresh or, in the case of creative hobbies, even create it afresh. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” isn’t in the Bible, but study of life (not least of my dear spouse, who is somewhat wedded to his work) suggests it’s a fair observation.
The opposite might also of course be true. On holiday, I always take pleasure in tidying our hotel room or even washing a few clothes; it makes me feel productive and in control of my environment. Wall-to-wall leisure can actually be quite tiring. Many a retiree has found that spending all day watching daytime television (or even the more uplifting activity of reading) leaves them with a sense of dissatisfaction, and they rush to volunteer at the nearest charity shop.
Day and night, work and leisure – our lives seem to need both rhythms of regular change and special memorable times that gain their specialness partly by their rarity. This week I have an embarrassment of riches in the leisure department: last night I went with a friend to our usual singing session, tonight I am going again with her and with another friend to see a livestream film of a famous tenor singing from Verona, the night after we have an unexpected ‘Mennomeet’ – gathering of members of our former church to see a friend who is over from Berlin – and the night after that, an anniversary party. I think I might skip the party…As my mum used to say: “Nichts ist schwerer zu ertragen als eine Reihe von schönen Tagen” – “Nothing is harder to bear than a series of lovely days.”
Last year’s Christmas outing, which was actually before Christmas and not in what I believe is now called ‘Twixmas’, was a modest one, to the local arthouse cinema to see the film Elf, which I’d somehow never seen. We enjoyed it just as much as an expensive trip to the West End, and no escalators were involved. I think we might aim low again this year.