Labor Day for Serfs

“We’re an anarcho-syndicalist commune” – Dennis, Monty Python and the Holy Grail

So it is Labor Day and I am off.  As I sit here this morning, watching the Office – I think this is appropriate Labor Day watching material – I am wondering what would have happened had the serfs in the Middle Ages asked for a Labor Day?

The concept, in Europe, of giving people of a lesser station a day to look forward to when their plight wasn’t so bad has been around for a long time.  In particular the theory behind Boxing Day may date back to the Middle Ages.  Certainly if a noble wanted to keep the serfes that worked for them happy, making them feel like at least one day of the year was going to be better then the rest would keep them working all that much harder the rest of the time.

Now, I don’t think the serfs got a day off.  They worked the land, the participated in building projects they ran the land for the land gentry under English Common Law and this meant that they were in fact property along with the land the worked on. Each day, especially those that took care of cattle and other herds of animals, the peasants that lived on the land of the nobles would have to get up and take care of the animals.  This is really no different then farmers today, except for the fact that the farmers in modern times usually own the fields and animals they are taking care of.  Serfs, not so much.

It is possible that the day after Christmas – the traditional Boxing Day – was a time when the nobles gave back to the serfs.  Were they allowed to actually have a Labor Day then?  I would like to think that they might have had something like a Labor Day. Sure it didn’t take place in September – that would have been harvest time – but maybe that day after Christmas was a time of less work for the serfs in the British Isles.

  • Maybe the landed nobles went to the serfs and had them work 8 hours that day instead of the usual 12.
  • Maybe the nobles took food to the serfs so that they didn’t have to slave over a meal for the day.
  • Maybe the nobles took it to the extreme, in true Boxing Day fashion, and they swapped places with the serfs for the day. Not likely.
  • Maybe December 26th was no different then any other day for the serfs of the Middle Ages, but certainly September 3rd, or whatever day Labor fell on would not have been a day off for the peasant.

Enjoy your day off if you got one.  Enjoy friends, family and good food. If you are working, figure out a way to do less.  Take a little control over your surroundings and have a good time on this glorious three day weekend.

Happy Labor Day!