If we took a holiday
Took some time to celebrate
Just one day out of life
It would be, it would be so nice.
"Holiday" by Madonna
Holidays have been associated with religious festivals since time immemorial. They were moments when workers could put down their tools for a day or two and come together for feasting and dancing. But the concept of a holiday paid for by an employer was unheard of. In the 18th and 19th centuries, holidays were taken by the privileged classes and with the development of the train network and steamer ships, foreign travel became fashionable amongst the elite. However, for the working class, a week’s holiday in foreign climes let alone at home, was still an unobtainable dream.
In 1871 the Bank Holiday Act in the UK gave workers a few days off each year, but this was still a far cry from the concept of giving workers an extended period of time to rest and unwind. In 1910, US President William Howard Taft proposed that every American worker needed two to three months of vacation a year “in order to continue his work next year with the energy and effectiveness that it ought to have.” Unfortunately, it came to nothing as the U.S. legislators didn't agree! Nevertheless, change was on its way. In 1911, in the UK, the trade unions started to campaign for a paid holiday for workers. The campaign was long but government lobbying continued until finally, in 1938, the Holidays with Pay Act was passed giving working class employees the right to one week’s paid holiday each year.
As statutory rights improved, so did the opportunities for making the most of this new time off. The famous UK Butlin’s holiday camps started at around this time. Billy Butlin apparently had a bad experience in his youth when he was not allowed to stay in his holiday accommodation during the day (a common practise at that time). He realised it was even worse for families forced to stay out even in bad weather until they were allowed to return to their bed and breakfast in the evening. It inspired him to create a holiday camp where people could have three meals and free entertainment every day. The concept was so popular that the first camp became fully booked for the season within hours of opening.
Nowadays, most countries around the world have a period of paid holiday. France, the UK, Iceland and Scandinavia appear to have the best deal whilst China and Mexico give their workers a minimum of just one week’s paid annual leave. But it’s better than nothing. So enjoy your summer holiday and give a little thought for those who campaigned all those years ago for our benefit now!
Philippa Stacey a fondé Eureka en 2007. Elle vit et enseigne l’anglais aux professionnels en France depuis 1993.