What is in a word?

“No man needs a vacation so much as the man who has just had one.”

Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915)

What is in a word? 

Americans “vacation;” our British brothers and sisters “holiday.” The words are used interchangeably by our Canadian neighbors.

Vacation comes from the Latin vacare, to be unoccupied. It seems to have come into English via William the Conqueror specifying the summer period when law courts were left unoccupied. Later it was extended to the time universities would be unoccupied during summer, literally empty. In both cases, the closures were related to the need to shift people and resources to cultivation and harvest. Emptying one place so that people could be busy in another.

The origin of “holiday” is what you might expect, the compression of the words “holy” and “day.” On holy days, laborers were exempted from work to allow for religious observations, gradually extending to refer to times of leisure and recreation. Americans express that sense of release from work for particular observance labeling particular days “holidays” — Memorial Day, Juneteenth, Independence Day, and Labor Day are all “holidays.”

Scripture tells us that humans were created on the sixth day, and immediately God rested with creation. Work was suspended on the Sabbath day by commandment, that humans would have time to renew their relationship with God, to reorient their lives away from the work of production and reconnect with God, to remember that life itself is a gift from God who loves us, not for what we do, but simply because we are.  

The Book of Common Prayer offers this prayer “For the Right Use of Leisure.”

O God, in the course of this busy life, give us times of refreshment and peace; and grant that we may so use our leisure to rebuild our bodies and renew our minds, that our spirits may be opened to the goodness of your creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I invite you to think about your time away (whenever it happens) as a holiday, as time to drink deeply from the well of your relationship with God, rather than a vacation, simply vacating one place to be busy in another. May this time be a blessing to you that you may continue to bless others.