Kōrero: Weekends

Whārangi 1. Origins of the weekend – the Sunday sabbath

Ngā whakaahua

The sabbath

The term ‘week-end’, describing the holiday period at the end of each week’s work, came into general usage in the late 19th century. The weekend originates with the sabbath, a day of rest and worship on the seventh day of the week. The Jewish sabbath is Saturday, but most Christian denominations have a Sunday sabbath.

Sabbath at Kororāreka, 1827

In 1827 a visiting English artist observed: ‘Not a bit of work would [Māori] do upon a Sunday ... At length we discovered that their cunning was as conspicuous as their politeness. They had observed we generally lay longer in bed on a Sunday morning than any other; they accordingly were up by break of day, and had completed many hours' work before we made our appearance; but the moment one of us did appear, the work was instantly left off.’1

Māori and the sabbath

Māori learned the concept of the sabbath from Protestant missionaries and other Christian Pākehā. Some Māori adopted Sunday as a day of rest before they adopted Christianity. This was probably a mark of respect for Pākehā customs, although a day of rest may have been seen as a good thing in itself. In later years Māori Christians often followed very strict rules for Sunday or Rātapu. Some of the Māori prophetic movements, such as Papahurihia and Ringatū, adopted the Jewish Saturday sabbath.

Sabbatarians – keeping Sunday holy

Many settlers from Presbyterian, Methodist and other non-conformist Protestant denominations were sabbatarians, holding strict views on Sunday activities. They believed that work, travel and pleasure-seeking were inappropriate for the ‘lord’s day’. For churchgoers, and children attending Sunday school, Sundays were important social days when people dressed in their best clothes. Sunday was usually marked by a large family meal after church.

Catholics, along with the more liberal Anglicans, viewed Sunday as a day for attending church and refraining from work, but generally took a more relaxed view on activities outside of church hours. In areas where churches had limited influence, such as the goldfields and gumfields, Sunday was often a quiet day for household chores and recreation.

The strict sabbath

Some sabbatarians held the view that even to cook on a Sunday was a breach of the sabbath. For the Will family of East Taieri ‘the Sabbath was very strictly observed. Apart from the reheating of soup and the boiling of the kettle no cooking was done – the main meal being served cold late in the afternoon.’2

Strict sabbatarians opposed all forms of recreation on Sundays, including picnics, hunting, fishing, swimming, gathering berries or flowers and even walks in the country. They believed the day should be for prayer, religious reading, rest and family activities. Sabbatarians opposed the Sunday opening of museums and public libraries. In 1885 they convinced the Dunedin City Council to prevent the naval band playing in the botanic gardens on Sunday afternoons.

Sunday regulations and recreation

Until 1884 Sunday regulations were the responsibility of local and provincial governments. Most shops were shut on Sundays, but in some areas hotels were open. Usually they could not serve alcohol, or could only serve it to travellers. The Police Offences Act 1884 included a clause forbidding most Sunday trading. The original bill also outlawed games or pastimes in public places, but these sections were removed following opposition from a group of parliamentarians led by future premier Richard Seddon.

The battle for Sunday: holy day versus holiday

Many people, determined to enjoy their one day off in the week, ignored sabbatarian disapproval of recreation. In response, from the 1860s transport companies put on special Sunday excursion ferries, with excursion trains added in the 1870s. Sabbatarians protested against the running of trams, trains and other public transport on Sundays. Transport workers also protested, wanting their own Sunday holiday.

In the early 20th century it became more common for concerts, and later films, to be held on Sundays. Promoters sometimes tried to defuse sabbatarian opposition by holding ‘sacred concerts’ or showing family films with a religious or moral message. In Wellington Sunday concerts and films had become the norm by 1912, while the Garrison brass band played regularly at Days Bay on Sunday afternoons.

The spread of car ownership in the 1920s and 1930s increased the potential of Sunday as a day of leisure. Families took Sunday drives to scenic areas for picnics, swimming and walks. Weekend tramping, climbing, fishing, hunting or going to the bach or crib (holiday homes) became more feasible, especially for those who were able to have a full day off on Saturday.

Kupu tāpiri
  1. Augustus Earle, Narrative of a residence in New Zealand in 1827; together with a journal of a residence in Tristan d’Acunha. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown , Green & Longman, 1832, pp. 146–147. Back
  2. Quoted in Alison Clark, ‘A Godly rhythm: keeping the sabbath in Otago, 1870–1890.’ In Building God’s own country: historical essays on religions in New Zealand, edited by John Stenhouse and Jane Thomson. Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 2004, p. 50. Back
Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Peter Clayworth, 'Weekends - Origins of the weekend – the Sunday sabbath', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/weekends/page-1 (accessed 20 September 2019)

Story by Peter Clayworth, published 5 Sep 2013