Friday, April 16, 2010

The Passing Of Easter?

Even though Easter here is at the wrong time of the year for a spring festival, I think our autumn suits the Christian story better. When I heard to talk of resurrection, I had some positive thoughts about the spring to come, as we get closer to our usually wet and gloomy winter.

It was so nice to have a couple of days without ads on TV and see kiwis and tourists enjoying a relaxing autumn visit to our beautiful Kaipara. I hope this kind of experience can continue for many generations to come.

Alas, there are signs that commercial interests are steadily gnawing away at it by extending shopping days into this important occasion. Surely shop assistants and other service industry workers are entitled to at least some time off with their families to worship or just be together and have a real break from work.

The Government (and Opposition) has shown little enthusiasm about changes, but that has not stopped some MPs wanting Easter trading available to more retailers. For example: MP Todd McClay wants communities to decide on their retail shopping hours. Rodney Hide is also in on the act as Minister of Regulatory Reform. It remains to be seen if he seeks a democratic consensus or allows his monetarist beliefs to influence his judgment.

It might be worth remembering that the word “holiday” originally came from the term “Holy Day”. The Church persuaded lords and ladies, peasants and yeomen, to all have at least one holy day off each week (and other festivals) to rest and go to church to worship together.

In post WW2 New Zealand there was a five day, forty hour, working week. Saturday was for recreation and Sunday for church. This arrangement did not seem slow the country down at all, in fact there were impressive growth rates in the economy and the standard of living rose. In my opinion, the only change necessary was Saturday morning trading, which makes a lot of sense.

Since then, working hours have increased and both parents are usually compelled to work to pay their bills. The pace of life has quickened and we live longer, busier lives. If commercial pressures force us to lose our “holy days”, will we risk becoming physically exhausted and spiritually poorer by losing our cultural identity?

Tourism is often cited as a reason to liberalize our trading hours and yet this view ignores the fact that visitors to New Zealand often enjoy the experience of our culture as much as our landscape. Without doubt, the Christian Churches have played an important role in shaping our culture. By incorporating the wisdom of past civilizations into its teachings and putting Christian messages into pagan festivals they have linked us to unique and meaningful traditions that are many thousands of years old.

We do not have to look far into history to see that commerce has a nasty habit of destroying the wealth it creates. When this happens, the Churches have been called upon many times to provide stability and help to assist the rebuilding process after wars - or when boom turns to bust.

In our country, they also bring together Pakeha and Maori. We now generally share a common ethical viewpoint and new cultural combinations are developing with a hybrid vigour that is certainly making waves on the world scene.

Obviously, I am on the side of the churches and unions in maintaining the few Christian “holy days’ we have. There is a strong case for limiting exemptions in order to give as many people as possible time to reflect on what has passed and chill out for a day or two. If anything needs to be changed, then I would go for clarifying and restricting exemptions allowed under the various acts.

Is the price of gaining a few extra shopping days really worth it? What do you think?

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