Even Medieval Peasants Got More Vacation Time Than You Do

I just got out of a hot shower, and am sipping a cup of hot chocolate while I listen to music on my iPhone in my heated apartment, while I write this article on a computer that allows me instant access to more information than I could ever process, so you’ll never convince me that life as a medieval peasant was better than my life today. However, there is one area that the peasants have us beat–they got a ton of days off.

Lynn Parramore, at evonomics, looked at what the leisure time of a peasant was like. Now granted, time off didn’t mean trips to the beach, but there certainly wasn’t the obligation to answer correspondence in the evenings. Of course, not being able to read was definitely part of that.

The Catholic Church, which controlled many areas of Europe, enforced holidays, where no work was allowed. In addition, things like weddings and births demanded time off, meaning your average peasant worked about 150 days per year.

To keep reading, click here: Even Medieval Peasants Got More Vacation Time Than You Do

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One thought on “Even Medieval Peasants Got More Vacation Time Than You Do

  1. That’s not entirely a full picture of what was going on.

    The Catholic Church pretty callously used enforced holidays to secure their powerbase, which was the peasants. Nobility readily defied the Church, even going to war with it, and the middle class didn’t exist. These were, to put it bluntly, bribes. Not that this was necessarily wrong; honestly, the Church was the greatest advocate of the people in the Middle Ages, and the power dynamics between Church, state, and people is a complex issue.

    That said, we have to remember that Medieval Europe was by and large an agrarian society, and such societies necessarily play by different rules than urban societies like our own. You can have a fair amount of downtime and nothing too bad will happen in an agrarian society, because let’s face it, tomorrow is going to be just like today. (Exceptions of course exist–planting and harvesting have to happen at a given time, regardless of all other considerations.) In contrast, a factory being shut down 150 days a year is going to have serious problems with maintenance and upkeep. You can’t shut a coke furnace down, for example; walk away from it for a day and you are buying a new one. A field of wheat, on the other hand, can handle a day or two of neglect.

    Plus, there’s the question of what constitutes work. Cows and goats need milked every day. Foals are born when they’re born, as are swine. Catching fish (a major source of protein for the Medieval peasant) counts as work for the fisherman, but does it for a shepherd or oat farmer? The phrase “a change is as good as a rest” is very true here: holidays may not (likely were not) days where people did little to nothing, but were rather days where they did those things they couldn’t justify on other days but which still needed done. Even shopping falls under this heading. Going to a fair for us is a fun experience where we enjoy ourselves. For the Medieval peasant it was that, but it was also the only way they had to acquire goods that couldn’t be made locally. It was fun, but it was also critical to their survival.

    It’s extremely hard to translate one culture’s norms into the terms of another culture, and very easy to allow what we want to be true to color what we think of as true. While the Medieval peasants may have considered their holidays to be restful and relaxing, I seriously doubt we would.

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