Lamenting the Loss of the Traditional American Sunday

Article excerpt

And on the Seventh Day, they quested, contested, jested, congested, ingested, digested, invested, divested, and. occasionally, rested ...

Sunday has become a frenetic day of movies, concerts, art shows, opera, theater, photography exhibits, professional baseball, football, basketball, thoroughbred racing, casino gambling, and shopping. And, of course, religious services - although many churches obligingly offer Saturday evening worship so the faithful can fulfill their weekly obligations without interfering with their Sunday plans.

I am not here to suggest a reversal of the trend; I don't think we can go back to the good old Sundays. This is a lament rather than a call to arms.

There was a time, not so long ago, when Sundays were special - and it didn't matter if you were religious or not. Whether our motives were sacred or secular, we all followed the prescription from Genesis for quiet contemplation.

Christians gave Sunday to the world in the fourth century. The world at first was reluctant to accept, but now it has run away with it. Sunday is a holiday rather than a holy day. A day of diversion rather than a day of rest. Depending on your point of view, America has either grown up or gone to the devil. The one certainty is that the old specialness in Sunday is gone. Once there were Sunday clothes, dinners, and drives. Indeed, the word "sundae" was coined to mean a kind of dessert that was especially for Sunday. Even the Constitution gives the president the day off by allotting him 10 days to sign bills - "Sundays excepted."

Although the idea that Sunday should be set aside for slow- moving church liturgies and contemplation of spiritual matters has become unthinkable to most Americans, it's an idea that didn't die easily. Colonial "blue laws" restricting Sunday business survived into the modern era, and for much of the last century Sunday was a day of rest and arrest. Nowhere were the blue laws more ensconced than in my home state, Pennsylvania.

In the first half of the 20th century, actors and actresses would sigh upon leaving the state; it usually meant they'd have to work on Sunday. …