Holy Day, Holiday: The American Sunday

By Rohrer, James | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2004 | Go to article overview

Holy Day, Holiday: The American Sunday


Rohrer, James, The Catholic Historical Review


Holy Day, Holiday: The American Sunday. By Alexis McCrossen. (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. 2000. Pp. xiii, 209. $39.95.)

This well-written study of Sunday in the United States provides a fascinating cultural history of rest in America. Historically most Americans have ceased working on Sunday, but as Alexis McCrossen demonstrates, the meaning of this day of rest has been constantly contested by differing groups with conflicting theologies, social visions, and political agendas. This text excels in showing how these battles reflect broader changes in American society from the early nineteenth century to the present.

The first seven chapters of McCrossen's study focus upon evolving public policies concerning Sunday. She probes in depth the efforts of early republican Sabbatarians to institutionalize Sunday as the biblically mandated Sabbath, and the countervailing forces that encouraged broader understandings of rest and leisure that supported a wider range of acceptable diversions on Sunday. Subsequent chapters probe the influence of the frontier and of war upon Sunday customs, Sunday in the industrial city, and the impact of consumerism in the late nineteenth century. McCrossen shows how battles over the meaning of Sunday reflected perceived differences "between holy day and holidays, between secular and sacred, between rest and work" (p. 110), but makes it clear that the move away from the once dominant evangelical Sabbatarian construction of the Sabbath was never a simple matter of secularization. Nineteenthcentury Protestant liberals and Catholic immigrants, for example, advanced theological rationales for broadening the meaning of Sunday. For them, holy day and holiday were not opposed but mutually reinforcing categories.

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