• Jim Donaher

Sundays & Holidays

I am old enough to remember when businesses were all closed on Sundays and on all the holidays, not just the major ones.


I remember in 1977 when Massachusetts, one of the last holdouts of the old Puritan 'Blue Laws,' passed a law that said certain retailers could be open from noon to 5:00 PM on Sundays, but ONLY between Thanksgiving and Christmas.


Prior to that, the only place you could buy anything on Sunday was at a convenience store, where my dad would walk our basset hound, Sophie, to pick up the Boston Sunday Globe.


'Certain retailers' meant only small ones (I don't remember the exact criteria), so the big box mall stores cried foul since they wanted to do business whenever they could.


This went on for several years, even as Massachusetts' reputation as a liberal bastion was just beginning to be obvious on a national level. Because of our Puritan-originated Blue Laws and despite our burgeoning political liberalism, we held fast.


That is, until 1983, when faced with all of its surrounding states allowing business on Sundays, Massachusetts gave in and removed the prohibition against Sunday store openings of all kinds.


This time it was not limited to the holiday shopping period. All Sundays could now be business days. Initially, the only exception was liquor stores, but they soon got the right to open from noon to 5.


This is not a history blog, but I wanted to give you some background on the world I grew up in. Sundays were for church, going for a ride to the beach or a park or, in my family, old Navy shipyards or railroad tracks near our home.


One Sunday after church, my dad took my brother and me for a walk down the railroad tracks from Weymouth Heights to Weymouth Landing. Like everything else, trains didn't run on Sundays either, so we weren't in any danger.


When we got back from our walk, which seemed like a hundred miles to my 9-year-old legs, Mom had a nice dinner ready for us after which we fell asleep on the living room floor reading the Globe Sports Page.


I know I sound antique, and there are a lot of great advantages to being able to shop and get other business done on Sundays.


But a lot was lost when we suddenly had all these options for our Sundays. It may have happened eventually anyway because technology would have evolved and we might have been obsessed with our phones, as we are today. But maybe we'd at least be together ignoring one another and not shopping or drinking in bars. Call me old-fashioned. Or antique.


I wrote recently about my neighborhood growing up and how much fun it was. But family life was fun too. For me, it was usually just our little family of Mom and Dad, Mike and me. We didn't have close relatives nearby, so our holidays were quiet-ish, as were our Sundays. Sometimes we'd have a fancy Sunday dinner, other times not. The major Winter and Spring holidays consisted of Thanksgiving-style menus, with roast turkey, stuffing, Ma's super mashed potatoes, and an array of pies for dessert.


When I got married and I described our holidays growing up, my wife thought it sounded sad. Her family was a collection of local, close relatives who were always together on the big holidays. She remembers huge Christmas Eve and then Christmas Day celebrations in her Aunt's apartment in the North End of Boston. The same family hosted Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, which had to be tough, but they did it for years.


It sounds great. And I have been going to their family holidays for 35 years, so I know it's great. But in my family, we were never sad about the holidays. We didn't know any different, and neither did our parents, who were from a small family (Mom) and my dad was an only child, raised by his widowed father.


Dad would sometimes be nostalgic about his Christmases growing up, poor and mostly alone, and those were painful memories for him. But I think it made him appreciate his life with us more. Compared to the Christmases of his youth, ours, with 4 people(!) must have seemed as crowded as my wife's family.


Mom and Dad thought our holidays were great and my brother and I agreed.


In the intervening years, the structure of holidays has shifted. We've eroded the standard so much that we now allow retailers to open ON Thanksgiving Day/Night!

A current survey about what people expect to get for holidays.

What used to be a mellow evening on the couch, fighting a food coma while watching football on TV or playing games with the family has become a battle planning time when the shopping class decides how and where to attack the malls. Some head out in the early evening to get in line and then shop all night. Others wait and attack before sunrise. It is apparently wildly successful and I'm told it is great fun and there are great deals. I am unlikely to ever do this.


It's unfortunate that so many shoppers give up family time on Thanksgiving voluntarily. But for the people who work in these stores, who have to work the holidays, it's worse. Their choices are 'keep their job' or hang out with the family. Since the family probably doesn't pay, they usually head to work.


To this day, there are a lot of weird and less well-known Blue Laws that are still technically in effect. My favorite is frightening a pigeon. Giving beer to hospital patients deserves some attention, but not from me.


Yet they repealed the one that had some beneficial effects, keeping families closer, even if it was for lack of anything else to do. It's definitely more convenient though.


But is it better?


Thank you for reading. Have a wonderful day. God bless you!

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