Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Weekend of Doing Nothing

Growing up in Newfoundland, the Victoria Day long weekend had significance beyond that found elsewhere in southern Canada. While here in Victoria the May long weekend is a mere blip in the progression of spring, in Newfoundland it marks the first serious hope that spring has truly arrived. It would not be a brave soul who planed anything before Old Queen Victoria’s day – it would be a madman determined to replant everything, as that would be his or her inevitable fate given the dismal weather of early May in Newfoundland.

But still, even here in the relatively tropical paradise of Victoria this long weekend carries a special significance. Unlike the fall and winter holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter), which are all associated in one way or another with events that demand activity (usually cooking), Victoria Day demands nothing. At most there will be a parade which one can go to, or not. There is no religious significance and consequent religious ceremony and argument attached to the day of rest. There is no soul alive who feels strongly about Queen Victoria, who is now a fusty image of a long past empire. It is a weekend to do nothing and nature kindly provides the weather in which that can be done.

As my family and friends know, I am seldom one inclined to do nothing – although I do appreciate the idea more than most of them think. Through habit and a bit of bad planning, my personal and professional life is best described as ‘busy.’ This weekend though I dedicate to nothingness and being – the days are devoid of plan and even such business as may intrude I will direct to the project of doing nothing.

If Geoffrey Stevens' idea today in the Globe of dropping the Victoria Day name in favour of some other name is ever adopted, then I suggest it be the GK Chesterton Long Weekend – that famous old archchristian (we would have differed on that point) put it well:

I think the name of leisure has come to cover three totally different things. The first is being allowed to do something. The second is being allowed to do anything. And the third (and perhaps most rare and precious) is being allowed to do nothing. Of the first we have undoubtedly a vast and a very probably a most profitable increase in recent social arrangements. Undoubtedly there is much more elaborate equipment and opportunity for golfers to play golf, for bridge-players to play bridge, for jazzers to jazz, or for motorists to motor. But those who find themselves in the world where these recreations are provided will find that the modern world is not really a universal provider. He will find it made more and more easy to get some things and impossible to get others. [] The second sort of leisure is certainly not increased, and is on the whole lessened. The sense of having a certain material in hand which a man may mould into _any_ form he chooses, this a sort of pleasure now almost confined to artists. As for the third form of leisure, the most precious, the most consoling, the most pure and holy, the noble habit of doing nothing at all--that is being neglected in a degree which seems to me to threaten the degeneration of the whole race. It is because artists do not practice, patrons do not patronise, crowds do not assemble to worship reverently the great work of Doing Nothing, that the world has lost its philosophy and even failed to create a new religion. 7/23/1927

Yes, Sir John A Macdonald must have a holiday – it is a national shame that we do not commemorate him and the other Prime Ministers, but let’s make their day in February, when we could all use a break and enjoy a drink of the hard stuff in honour of old Sir John A. Let’s keep our May break to pointlessly doing nothing.

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