When I first started working as a kid, one “bonus week” during the school year was Thanksgiving. I got to work on Friday and Saturday, rather than just Saturday. All businesses were open on the Friday after Thanksgiving, not just retailers. Almost everyone worked that day, because for hourly workers, you had to work the day before and day after a holiday to get paid for it. Companies that hired kids for part-time work would have set aside menial jobs just for the part-timers to do on that Friday.
That is not true today. I have no clients that open on Friday. Even my clients that do business internationally give their US people off the Friday after Thanksgiving. Many manufacturers that run two shifts will close Thursday and the first shift on Friday. It has become, for most Americans, a four day holiday. In fact, it is starting to become a five day weekend, as many people use their personal time to take Wednesday. This year, the traffic on the interstate was busiest Tuesday night rather than Wednesday.
Something similar is happening with Christmas. I have noticed this year that my e-mail traffic has slowed to a trickle and the commute to the office is light. The kids are still in school, but lots of people are using accumulated personal time to make a short week. Or, maybe two short weeks. Since Monday is the holiday, people are using two vacation days this week and three the next week. Christmas and New Year’s Day have made for a two week period where nothing much gets done, as many people are off on holiday.
When America had a manufacturing base, it was not unusual for employers to close the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, as that was when maintenance was performed, inventories were done and so forth. While the lines might have been idle, the office people were still working and many of the production staff were in doing other things. The line workers were forced to use their vacation time if they were not called in for inventory or maintenance. Otherwise, this time of years was business as usual.
Employers gave workers off for Christmas Day, but they were expected to work a full day on Christmas Eve. Again, as a kid, I had off from school at this time so it was a chance to earn some money. The years when Christmas was on a weekend, it was not a paid holiday, unless you normally worked on weekends. That day before and day after stuff applied to Christmas too. The really generous employers would send their office people home after lunch on Christmas Eve, often after a company paid-for lunch.
Holiday creep in America is mostly due to technology and leisure. Despite our troubles and our looming problems, we are a rich country by the standards of world history. The fact is many people in offices today are performing nonsense work anyway. The amount of money spent on compliance with government regulations, industry quality standards and mitigation against litigation is substantial. The hens in the HR department could be replaced by robots if not for the need to police the ranks for multicultural violations.
Even nonsense takes a holiday. That is another aspect of this. Around the Imperial Capital, they used to announce on snow days that only essential personnel needed to report to work. Everyone chuckled because they knew it meant all government workers would be home, as none of them were essential. Now, they say “Federal workers are to use liberal leave or telecommute.” It is not just the government though. Lots of work in the dreaded private sector is busy work, so giving people more time off is often a net benefit to business.
There is also the fact that attitudes are changing. When America was run by white men, people were defined by what they did for a living. Not working meant you were not needed, which meant you were unimportant. In a world run by hormonal white women, everyone is defined by their latest autoethnographic postings on Facebook. Quality time at home with the cats is now a sign of status. Personal time off, flexible work hours and the ability to “work” from home are the new status symbols of American society.
The reason this is possible is we are a post-scarcity society. Even our poor people are fat and over indulged. Drive through the West Baltimore ghetto next Monday and you will see empty cartons for game consoles, big screen TV’s and other luxury items. Jamal may be headed to court next week, but he is going to get a season of NBA 2K18 in before he has to report to prison. We are a society where work is less and less important, because we have an excess of everything. There is a limit to how much stuff people want to buy.
Whether or not the creeping holiday phenomenon is a good thing is hard to know. Some things are both good and bad or neither. Most people reading this were trained to think hard work built character so a desire to work was a sign of good character. That is a perfectly sensible belief in a world of scarcity. In a post-scarcity society, one where automation is increasing taking over human labor, maybe those sentiments about work are counter productive. Maybe the way forward is self-actualizing leisure.
Regardless, it is a short day for me as I am taking Friday off to have a four day weekend.