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Peasants had more vacation time than we do today

Ian Harvey

There is no way to convince anyone in this day and age that the life of a medieval peasant is better than our lives today; with our ability to listen to music through an iPod inside a comfortable heated apartment or our being able to go onto a computer to look up anything our hearts desire. It seems, though, there is one thing that a medieval peasant had that we don’t – a lot of days off.

Lynn Parrmore, at Evonomics, looked at what kind of leisure the peasants at the time had. Granted, their time off didn’t include trips to the beach, but there wasn’t any obligation to answer correspondence during the evenings. Of course, not knowing how to read was a part of that.

"Peasants in a Tavern" by Adriaen van Ostade (c. 1635),
“Peasants in a Tavern” by Adriaen van Ostade (c. 1635),

The Catholic Church had controlled several areas of Europe in the past; it decreed that work was not allowed on holidays. In addition to that, events like births and weddings demanded time off. With all this, the average peasant would work around 150 days a year.

The average American today works a lot more, having a five day work week, 52 weeks out of the year, there are around 260 working days during any given year.

The average U.S. worker is given eight paid holidays and eight vacation days, which would bring the average worker to 244 days on the job every year. This is considerably more than our peasant ancestors worked.

It is silly, though, to compare modern workers to peasants of the past. They might not have worked because the Church wouldn’t allow them to, but that doesn’t mean it was a paid vacation or even a pleasant one. They didn’t have long lives, nor did they have the best hygienic options either.

Yet it points out that having our higher standard of living comes at a price. If we want nice things, we need to work more than our ancestors did. Even so, 55 percent of us leave vacation days unused. As a result, American workers give up 61 billion dollars in free work every year.

Well, we enjoy nice things, but some bosses punish us for taking vacations even though it’s part of the compensation package. But some of us are wanting to climb to the top and are willing to sacrifice our time off. Probably some of us just want to claim we have to work so that we don’t have to go on vacation with the in-laws.

Most companies have a calendar-year vacation program. This might mean that you could be in danger of losing your unused vacation days toward the month of November. If you have the use-it-or-lose-it policy, then you’re only allowed to roll over a specific amount of vacation days.

Things at work might be too busy for you to take a whole week off, and your spouse and kids might have to work or be in school. Educational institutions can be picky about letting kids out of school for fun things. Yet this doesn’t mean that you can’t use your vacation time. You can donate your unused vacation days to a sick co-worker who couldn’t get paid. Several companies have programs like this to help victims of cancer or other kinds of long-term diseases.

You can use it to take a day off a week to do whatever you’d like. You could go shopping or go see a movie; maybe get some housework done. You could take your vacation days off in increments and go home early some days but still get paid for it! You can use it to get rested and ready for the holidays, and you won’t get behind in work, reported.

"Feiernde Bauern" ("Celebrating Peasants"), artist unknown, 18th or 19th century
“Feiernde Bauern” (“Celebrating Peasants”), artist unknown, 18th or 19th century

We have another fun read for you: The Ribauldequin: medieval machine gun considered as the predecessor of the 19-th century mitrailleuse

But whatever you do, do not give up something you have earned. Working has given us the luxury of our better lifestyles, but working too much isn’t good for us either. Try relaxing every once in awhile, you’re body will thank you for it.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News