Sunday hike in Mexico
As I was walking to meet friends for a hike in the small Mexican town where I live this morning, I mindlessly noted less traffic on the streets, many bolted shop doors, and relative tranquility. And then I remembered. It was Sunday! The day of the week in many cultures, traditionally reserved for rest, family and worship. A day set apart from the other six, the rituals of Sunday were based on pleasure.
For many post-war, young families in the U.S., Sundays used to be synonymous with no work or school, sleeping late, coffee and books, or the (much bigger than weekday) newspaper in bed. As a child, Sundays for my very Catholic family meant church, naturally. Not only was attendance mandatory, but we also dressed up for church in those days, with the formal attire matching the previously more formal rituals of the mass. Mothers clad their daughters in matching dresses, while they donned hats, posh suits and patterned clutch bags. In hindsight, church was more like a fashion show than day of atonement, where every week after we settled into our pews, we rubbernecked to see families work the aisle as if it were a runway. In early adolescent years, instead of pretty dress sightings, I looked for the boy I currently had a crush on. At around age 14, I gave up church—and God for that matter— to worship in the house of nature. Pre-Christian pagans used the day to honor the sun, just as the name implies. Having a Sunday walk in the park or woods surrounding my house seemed more appropriate to celebrate this special day. No dress or patent leather shoes required.
Sundays also meant special breakfast (after church, of course). Weekday sugary cereal and milk gave way to bacon and eggs and sweet biscuits. Seemingly just after we finished breakfast, my large Italian family would gather for a late afternoon spaghetti and meatball dinner every week at my Nana's city row house. Three families of aunts, uncles and cousins, all crowded around the table to have the afternoon meal that my grandmother had been cooking since early morning.
Everyone had time to do this on Sunday because local commerce took a day off as well. All the stores were closed. No one expected to be able to buy a thing on Sunday. It's almost hard to imagine now. Most states in the U.S. had "Blue Laws"—in effect in some way since colonial times—specifically prohibiting alcohol sales and going to work. Without these diversions and chores, it would be easier to preserve a day of rest and worship, our puritan forefathers had decided.I am far from puritanical, but I've recently been nostalgic for those Sundays of childhood. Not the church part. But the gathering and ritual part.
By 1978, in my home state of Pennsylvania, the blue laws had mostly been repealed and little by little, we came into the modern world by treating Sunday just like any other day of the week. Not to mention, our 21st century technology that now allows people to work 24/7 from anywhere. Sundays seem to have lost their specialness.
But here in Mexico—for now at least— there is still a feeling of respect for Sunday. Mexico is famous for the importance of its family relationships, and the modern Mexican Sunday comes very close to my own 1960's Italian one, with church going and food preparation part of the importance of the day. Also, Mexicans still dress up. I love walking into town to see street sellers gone, taco trucks and flower vendors closed up for the day. Working people are home with their families, la abuela, no doubt cooking up the afternoon comida. I like to imagine large Mexican families, similar to my own, gathering to have their meal together.
My childhood Sundays of white linen-clad tables abundant with food and wine; adults with kids on their laps, laughing and talking for hours are long gone. Modern life, with shopping and working available at all hours also has our families spread around the world with little time to visit. Lives change and become quieter as we age. Our elders die and carry our traditions with them.
The pandemic has reminded all of us about the importance (and absence) of gathering with the people we love. My weekly Sunday afternoons with my extended family represented that love. So how to make one day a week feel special again? Can I maintain a tradition of one? Many job and life style changes allow me to treat every day like Sunday if I want to. But I will try and stick to the original. My14-year old self had the right idea to replenish the week's energy in nature, which I can still do. Beyond that, with our abilities to gather still curtailed, for now, I grant myself permission. Permission to dream. To be aimless. To veg. Permission to answer to a slightly more hedonistic call for one day a week and treat Sunday like a true day off. Off from any shoulds that might distract me from the pure pleasures of Sunday.
A small portion of my young family, circa early 1960's. I'm at the head of the table on my grandfather's lap, stuffing food into my mouth :-)