For nearly everyone, there is one day of the week that is special, set aside for activities other than work, school and demands from the outside world. As thinking beings whose lives are often dictated by the demands of industry and commerce, not to mention child and eldercare, we need that space to just be. Our brains need time to depressurize and regroup. We need the time to enjoy our family and/or attend church. Although we live in a multicultural country whose very foundation is set on freedom of religious choice, Sunday, for the majority, is that day.
Historically for Christians, Sunday was that sacred day for prayer, reflection, being together as a family over a large meal and calling on friends. It remained that way until the mid-1960s, when family structures started to change, women began working outside the home in greater numbers, and Blue Laws were being repealed slowly. With the likelihood that one or both heads of households would now be out of the home on Sundays, it may have lost its once clearly defined meaning. Or did it? Seek and ye shall find.
The Sundays of my youth were spent at a Methodist Church. I was baptized in the Marion Methodist Church (now a private residence) and later attended Sunday school classes in the Onset Methodist Church (now closed). My history with Sunday is deeply marked by the stories of the Bible being memorized, while I wore little white gloves, hats with thin elastic chin straps, and heard coins tinkling into the collection basket. I loved the Bible stories and Psalms. So, when I think of the Sundays of my youth, they are synonymous with going to church and studying the Bible.
And then there were the Sunday visits. About once a month, a relative would come visiting on Sunday afternoons. I loved the visits from cousin Mildred, a second cousin at least five decades older than me. She always wore a hat and gloves, shirtwaist dresses and sweaters held together by a sweater clip. Remember those? In her vast purse, she’d fish out hard candies. She kept a linen handkerchief stuffed up her sleeve. Her fragrance was English lavender talcum powder and mothballs. I loved her and would sit beside her on the sofa admiring her bangle bracelets and rhinestone rings. Mildred remained a favorite relative of mine until her passing at age 99. Whenever I think of Sundays, I think of Mildred, cups of tea, Fig Newton cookies and the King James Bible.
It has been many years since going to church, visiting with relatives and eating a huge Sunday dinner was a routine part of my week. I wondered if Sundays had changed for others, from traditional church attendance and family visits to something else. After all, hasn’t everything changed? I reached out to others to plume the depths of their experience and this is what I found.
From K. Livery of greater Chicago: “I looked forward so much to Sundays. It was the one day different from the others. We relaxed, my mom wasn’t stressed by the clock, Dad was present at least for a while, and for me, there was a wonderful break from school and Mrs. Richter’s 100 math problems every weeknight.
“During the week, my parents’ role in 60s suburban life was in full-bloom with parochial school for me, lots of clubs and volunteering, and a household with three very tired wage earners, two of whom were over 40 and not in the mood for anything that looked at them funny or rocked the boat. Those were the days when you could go out for a drive and stop in and see friends or family completely unannounced, and no one thought you were rude.
“Childhood Sundays meant church and Sunday school. Lutherans, by the way, never do anything in less than 55 minutes at a whack, so by the time all was said and done, almost 2.5 hours of the day were spent behaving under more parochial scrutiny, which was not fun. But once that part of the day was done, I loved to go back home and read the funny papers. For my mom, there was a big Sunday dinner to fix, and for my dad, watching the game on TV or cutting the grass.
“There are many years between my brother and I, but we have always been close. And, he made Sunday evenings, especially in the summer, just wonderful. I was a pampered little sister. On so many of those hot, humid southern Illinois evenings, Barry would take me out for Dairy Queen or to the A&W Root Beer Drive-In.
“Today, Sundays still mean church (my husband plays guitar in the contemporary service), lunch at home (although it’s a modest fare), and trying to decide what we have the energy to do.”
From the French quarter of New Bedford, one senior citizen recalls: “On Sundays, if it wasn’t summer, which we spent at our camp, and if my father wasn’t working, he’d spend the day taking us someplace as a family, or he’d play baseball or catch with us, or maybe we’d just take a ride. A big treat was once or twice a year going to a Red Sox game.”
“Oh, we went to church – that was a given.”
Dinner? “Big Sunday dinners were a given, too!”
Another senior citizen laughed and shared: “Sundays? Well, I spent the morning waiting for my Gentile buddies to come home from church so we could play ball!”
Joe A. remembered: “Church on Sunday morning and the Sunday dinner at noon … in the afternoon, we would get a visit from my great Aunt Blanche and her sister, my nana. They always brought a homemade cake or cookies … us kids so looked forward to that. Now we are empty nesters and attend church on Saturdays so we sleep in or just relax with coffee. Life is different now.”
From Fairhaven, Sue H. said, “As a full-time worker, I have learned to make myself treasure every minute of Saturday and Sunday … a second cup of coffee especially on Sundays … when our boys were young, we did lots of sporting events, but now we enjoy sitting out on our back deck together.”
From a rich tapestry of domestic life, Richard S. paints the following story: “Sunday mornings of my childhood began with 8:30 am Mass with the entire family, followed by either visiting each of my grandparents’ houses for pastries and coffee, or, during the good weather, a cookout in their backyards. Sometimes, we’d go for a drive to the countryside or along the coast, stopping along the way at a clam shack. In the fall, it was apple picking, or a day a Rocky Point Park or Lincoln Park or Crescent Park.
“Now that I’m older, it’s my turn to pick up the mantle hosting Sunday dinners here when my kids don’t have events I need to take them too. Still, we try to keep the traditions going, but it is harder and harder with the current pace of life. Definitely not like days past, which were much more relaxed and leisurely. I miss those days.”
For many families, one or both of the breadwinners might be working. Two teenage girls told me: “Mom works, and Dad does his gardening, so I either sleep till noon or read, visit with friends … we go to church as a family on Saturday.
And the other said; “My mom usually works, too, and sometimes Dad also, but most of the time Dad and I sing in church together … then I’ll do homework or help clean up the house and wait for Mom to come home.”
Sometimes we have to go where a family member is located in order to keep the familial ties strong. Such is the case for those visiting nursing homes. Go to any parking lot of any nursing home anywhere and you’ll find cars filled with families heading inside to visit a cloistered loved one on Sunday. These multigenerational knots of people find their way to the bedside or wheelchair of grandmothers, grandfathers, mothers, fathers or other relatives. Visiting a nursing home is a very hard duty, for sure. But so strong is the drive to spend at least part of their Sunday with the missing family member that the sacrifice is made.
Sundays have most likely changed for the majority of us. Yet, as our business norms, social norms and family structures have changed, it seems to me that one thing has remained – Sundays are for being with family as much as possible. As I look around our village, I see families spending afternoons walking, pushing the kids on swings, eating ice cream, picnicking or biking together. Even in retail environments like a mall, one finds whole families together. In spite of some of the family members working or the activities of the day being more mundane than going to a park, Sunday still punctuates our lives with an opportunity to reconnect, re-energize, and try to strike some balance to an otherwise non-stop contemporary life, even if only for a few precious hours. Peace out!
By Marilou Newell