Medieval Peasants Had More Vacation Time Than Us

Remember this the next time you feel bad about filing that leave.

Okay, the life of a medieval peasant wasn't exactly pleasant. They lived in constant fear of disease, famine, war, and of their lords. Living conditions were atrocious.

However, there was a sliver of a silver lining to living during those times: more vacation time. Yes, much more than us.

Medieval peasants were said to have enjoyed about eight weeks to half a year off. Economist Juliet Schor even estimates that in the period following the Plague, peasants only worked no more than 150 days a year.

This was primarily because of the Church, which sought to suppress the peasant population's angst, trying to eliminate any ideas of an uprising. It had also enforced frequent mandatory holidays. Peasants got time off to go to birthdays, weddings, wakes, and even sporting events. Labor-free Sundays were also a thing back then.

Eight-hour work days weren't the norm at the time, except during winter season. Summers during the Middle Ages, on the other hand, had a very different pace to them. Workers would literally stop for a leisurely breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They even got a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack break.

“The laboring man will take his rest long in the morning; a good piece of the day is spent afore he comes at his work; then he must have his breakfast, though he has not earned it at his accustomed hour, or else there is grudging and murmuring; when the clock smiteth, he will cast down his burden in the midway, and whatsoever he is in hand with, he will leave it as it is, though many times it is marred afore he come again; he may not lose his meat, what danger soever the work is in. At noon he must have his sleeping time, then his bever in the afternoon, which spendeth a great part of the day; and when his hour cometh at night, at the first stroke of the clock he casteth down his tools, leaveth his work, in what need or case soever the work standeth.”

- James Pilkington, Bishop of Durham, ca. 1570

On average, peasants also only worked for three days a week. The 70- to 80-hour work week, after all, was only a by-product of the industrial revolution in the west.

In the Philippines, working this many hours a week has been the norm as well. Laborers here don't exactly have a lot of vacation time either.

According to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE)'s handbook, Filipino workers are entitled to one vacation leave and one sick leave every 24 days of actual service. Employees only have about 15 days' worth of vacation leaves and 15 days' worth of sick leaves annually with full pay.


So when we think about taking some time off, let's all remember that we shouldn't feel as bad as we should.


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Bryle B. Suralta
Assistant Section Editor
Bryle B. Suralta is the Assistant Section Editor of Esquire Philippines.
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