Acton Institute Powerblog

Hasta La Vista, Siesta

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In this week’s Acton Commentary, Anthony Bradley takes a look at the Spanish economy as it faces a “dilemma,” as he puts it, “simultaneously needing immigrants and seeking to curb them.” Bradley also notes that “institutions like marriage and family seem silly to many Spaniards.”

As APM’s Marketplace reports, shifting trends in Spain might claim another Spanish institution, the siesta. A variety of factors, including increasing competition with labor forces in other nations, are leading some to question the viability of the siesta system in Spain.

The siesta works like this: in the middle of the workday, beginning at around 2pm, offices and businesses close up shop for a few hours, giving workers an extended break. It used to be that employees could go home, spend some time with the family, have a meal, and take a brief catnap, returning fresh to work after the siesta concluded.

But nowadays, the lengthy commutes for urbanites makes a trip home impractical. And many workers don’t like having to stay at work until 9pm in order to get a full day’s work in after the siesta break. What once was a way to create family time is now being seen as contributing to an anti-family work environment. As Jerome Socolovsky reports, “Young parents who want to go home before 9 o’clock to be with their kids can meet with disapproval from the boss.”

One interesting thing about this story is the juxtaposition of the situation in Spain, which seems to be heading away from the siesta model, and the reality in some other industrialized nations, such as Japan, where “power napping” is becoming big business.

In his depiction of the Christian’s daily activities in Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that “the noonday hour, where it is possible, becomes for the Christian family fellowship a brief rest on the day’s march. Half of the day is past. The fellowship thanks God and prays for protection until eventide. It receives its daily bread and prays…”

It strikes me that in the rise of the Japanese power nap and the fall of the Spanish siesta, we’re seeing two extremes come together. Perhaps working 12-hour days, as is common in Japan, isn’t the human ideal. And neither is the extended break during the hottest hours of the day necessary in places where the work being done isn’t manual labor.

Appropriate rest is needed, that is beyond question. But exactly what constitutes the right amount of rest seems to be an open question, or at least culturally contextual to some extent. As Calvin observed, the moral requirements of the fourth commandment concerning Sabbath observance are universal, and include provision for “our servants and labourers relaxation from labour.” This includes the “carnal” labor of daily work, as but a pointer toward “the mystery of perpetual resting from our works.”

Update: Marketplace takes a look at the immigration boom in Spain here. According to one immigration lawyer, a major reason immigrants head to Spain is “the generous welfare system. Illegal aliens get free health care here.”

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he also serves as executive editor the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has authored articles in academic publications such as The Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, and Journal of Scholarly Publishing, and has written popular pieces for newspapers including the Detroit News, Orange County Register, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2006, Jordan was profiled in the book, The Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists And Innovators Who Are Changing The World Through Faith. Jordan's scholarly interests include Reformation studies, church-state relations, theological anthropology, social ethics, theology and economics, and research methodology. Jordan is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), and he resides in Jenison, Michigan with his wife and three children.

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