The Annual Holiday

Its rise, transformations, expansion and fragmentation

Authored by: John K. Walton

Routledge Handbook of Leisure Studies

Print publication date:  April  2013
Online publication date:  July  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415697170
eBook ISBN: 9780203140505
Adobe ISBN: 9781136495595


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The annual holiday away from home, an invented calendar custom (but increasingly also a movable feast), can be regarded as a British invention of the eighteenth century, at least in its commercial guise. It has spread and mutated across the globe, building on and incorporating local traditions as it mutates and ramifies; and as a concept it needs to be distinguished from the ‘day out’, the ‘week-end away’ and the ‘short break’ distributed through the recreational calendar. The ‘annual holiday’ should also be differentiated from the kind of pleasure regime in which several holidays are taken during the year: the concept entails the holiday as special occasion within the calendar, repeated every year, and perhaps taking on the character of ritual, calendar custom or even pilgrimage. It may involve returning annually to the same place, and is likely to be associated with people of limited resources, though sufficient for the purpose. It is not the same as the seasonal itinerancies of the leisured society of the wealthy, migrating from one fashionable location to another to observe the rituals of conspicuous consumption and display: these are the lifestyle choices of those who are able to float above the quotidian disciplines of industrial and bureaucratic labour, and for whom what to others might be ‘holidays’ become a way of life. For its votaries, the annual holiday, as such, was something special, to be saved for and looked forward to, a red-letter period in the calendar to be set aside, safeguarded, enhanced and enjoyed. In the late 1930s the Bolton-based anthropological research organization Mass Observation labelled the regular week at the British seaside ‘the fifty-second week’ and invested it with significance akin to a religious pilgrimage (Cross, 1990). Above all, the idea of the annual holiday has come to be identified with the regular rhythms of industrial society and the leisure needs of waged workers who were subjected to a measure of labour discipline: the ‘leisure class’ did not need annual holidays.

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