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Sunday: A History of the First Day from Babylonia to the Super Bowl

Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 480
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The mere mention of "Sunday" will immediately conjure up a rich mix of memories, associations, and ideas for most anyone of any age. Whatever we think of-be it attending church, reading a bulky newspaper, eating brunch, or watching football-Sunday occupies a unique place in Western civilization. But how did we come to have a day with such a singular set of traditions? Here, historian Craig Harline examines Sunday from its ancient beginnings to contemporary America in a fascinating blend of stories and analysis. For the earliest Christians, the first day of the week was a time to celebrate the liturgy, observe the Resurrection, and work. But over time, Sunday in the Western world took on still other meanings and rituals, especially in the addition of both rest and recreation to the day's activities. Harline illuminates these changes in enlightening profiles of Sunday in medieval Catholic England, Sunday in the Reformation, and Sunday in nineteenth-century France-home of the most envied and sometimes despised Sunday of the modern world. He continues with moving portraits of soldiers and civilians trying to observe Sunday during World War I, examines the quiet Sunday of England in the 1930s, and concludes with the convergence of various European traditions in the American Sunday, which also adds some distinctly original habits of its own, such as in the realms of commerce and professional sports.

    With engaging prose and scholarly integrity,Sundayis an entertaining and long-overdue look at a significant hallmark of Western culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16742-9
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xviii)

    While most in the basement viewing room rush off with the rest of America to the kitchen buffet, or join the annual great flush that so worries local water departments, the colored lights, music, and smoke of the halftime show go up on the big screen. Remaining behind with my ninety-year-old grandmother, I wonder which of the Jacksons will be performing this year and what my grandmother will think of it all. Comfortable in her favorite recliner, she’s no fan of football or pop music, but she recognizes a cultural spectacle when she sees one and likes to join in...

    (pp. 1-25)

    Trying to find the origins of Sunday, the biblical scholar Eugene Laverdière once observed, is like trying to find the source of a great river. The delta at the river’s end, and the long channel flowing into the delta, are easily recognizable. Yet the farther one moves upstream toward the source, the trickier the going: tributaries multiply, lead astray, or go underground. And when finally located, the humble source may bear so little resemblance to the massive amounts of water downstream that one will surely wonder what the beginning can possibly have to do with the end.

    But if the...

    (pp. 26-66)

    All days began early in June, with the first rays of sunlight landing on the highest stones of the church’s squattish tower, then gradually spreading to rooftops clustered nearby. Most of these several dozen houses resembled a very bent “A” and featured tried and true walls of wattle and daub, fresh or old whitewash, roofs of thatch, a single door, and a small window or two covered by wooden shutters. Some were no more than hovels. The front side of all bordered the single dirt road that wound lazily through the village, while behind each dwelling lay a plot of...

    (pp. 67-102)

    Like medieval peasants before him, the Dutch schoolteacher David Beck rose early on Sunday mornings. But while rural peasants hoped to get in some work before Mass, this urban creature simply had too much on his heart and mind to sleep well, even in the black of a winter’s night.

    Sometimes he awoke early because of frightening dreams, such as when he imagined himself and his brother Hendrik being clamped into chains by Turks—the bogeymen of early modern Europeans—and then left to die in prison. But most of the time he awoke because of dreams about his wife,...

    (pp. 103-163)

    The sounds of early Sunday morning were fewer than those of other mornings, but still wholly disorienting to the protagonist, a man accustomed to sleeping late today, as every day. If the clatter of a milkman’s horse and wagon on cobblestone didn’t disturb him enough, then a host of other terrifying sensations would: an open window, cool air pushing through it, a cage with singing birds, bright pine furniture and colorful flowers all around, and indeed this entire modest apartment five ghastly stories above the street. What time was it? Where was he? How did he get here? And where...

    (pp. 164-214)

    On the last Sunday before the Great War, most Belgians followed their usual Sunday pleasures. In Brussels the afternoon crowds quite resembled their counterparts in Paris—walking along busy boulevards, heading for suburban fields to seek the sun, taking cover in the shade of lush woods, or, if they were poor, spending the day miserably. In Belgium’s ubiquitous villages (all 2,633 of them), young couples strolled along country roads through glistening fields, old people sat before their doors, neighbor ladies chatted over garden hedges, boys swam in the river and looked for birds’ nests, while men young and old cared...

    (pp. 215-277)

    First Man (bored):It makes you sick. I hate Sundays.

    Second Man (ruffling his newspaper):So do I, but there’s one a week and there always has been and always will be and there’s nothing you can do about it.

    First Man (grouchy):It’s not like this on the Continent. It’s their big day over there, all the cafés open and football matches and race meetings and everybody’s gay, and...not over here though. Everything’s shut up.

    Second Man (annoyed):I wish you would.

    First Man (sighing repeatedly):Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear.

    From“Sunday Afternoon at Home,”a BBC...

    (pp. 278-368)

    During the 1955–56 television season, over several Sunday afternoons, NBC aired an innovative program entitledWide, Wide World. The innovation lay not in the program’s now primitive (and even offensive) commercials, nor in the live (if canned) interviews and commentary. Rather it lay in the deployment of some sixty-four cameras and seventeen hundred technicians all around the country, in order to offer a bird’s-eye view of the spectacularly varied American Sunday.

    Organized around such themes as “Sunday Driver,” “Sunday with Youth,” and “Sunday in Autumn,” the program covered a staggering array of activities. These included a wide assortment of...

    (pp. 369-382)

    What strikes me most today is not the odd chain of circumstances that brought me here, nor the wonderful food and convivial atmosphere so common at festivities organized by otherwise reserved Belgians, nor the tranquil setting in this gently sloping park situated behind a former villa, nor even this culturally bombarded country’s recent adaptation of an American form of outdoor dining. Rather it is that the obvious moment for such an occasion is understood by all to be Sunday. Only an outsider unaccustomed to this assumption would even notice.

    My friend Louis, who invited me, is busy with ten other...

    (pp. 383-436)
    (pp. 437-440)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 441-450)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 451-452)