AMERICA CHANGED, DRAGGING
SUNDAY ‘BLUE LAWS” WITH IT.
By TED ANTHONY
The Associated Press, July 27, 2004
Once, within living memory, it was a day apart in many places: a 24-hour stretch of family time when liquor was unavailable, church was the rule, shopping was impossible and — in some towns — weekend staples like tending the lawn and playing in the park met with hearty disapproval. But America changed, and it dragged Sunday along with it. Though Sunday still means worship and family time for millions of Americans, today it also means things it once didn’t — I 2-packs of Bud, the NFL on TV, catching up with the week’s accumulated errands, picking up some CDs at Best Buy. moving through a 24/7 culture.
Today, for a lot of Americans, Sunday’s just another day you have to go to work at Wal-Mart,” says John Hinshaw, a labor historian at Lebanon Valley College in Annville. Pa. Last week, the Virginia legislature fixed a loophole it accidentally created when, attempting to abolish old “blue laws,” it gave workers the right to take Sundays off as a day of rest. The legislative mistake was a quirk, nothing more. But its quick and definitive correction by Virginia lawmakers summoned back in special session illustrated how markedly Sunday’s place in American culture has evolved.
The Protestant notion of Sunday began to change in the 1800s with immigrant laborers, many Roman Catholic, who saw things differently. Many were devoted to “a Sunday that took a very different shape — church in the morning and leisure in the afternoon,” says Alexis McCrossen, author of “Holy Day, Holiday: The Ameri- can Sunday.” The 20th century brought pushes toward a shorter working week, and a major work-reform law passed in the 1930s created more down time and made Sunday less pivotal — at the same time commercial culture really took hold.
Across the nation, laws governing Sunday conduct — some dating to the 17th century — have fallen. In some places, like South Carolina, the changes created a
crazy-quilt patchwork that allows some stores to open at some hours while others can’t. In Maine, it wasn’t until 1990 that voters repealed a law barring Sunday shopping at supermarkets and department stores. In Texas, as late as 1985, everything from kitchenware to air conditioners to curtains couldn’t be sold on two consecutive weekend days. These days, it’s unimaginable to many Americans, particularly younger ones: A mall closed on Sunday? The supermarket unavailable? Laws governing Sunday alcohol, though they remain on some states’ books, are falling away. Today, 31 of the 50 states permit Sunday sales of liquor, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. n the past two years, nine states initiated Sunday sales, including Massachusetts, where some of the earliest moral-conduct laws were passed.
“We’ve erased a lot of the distinctions between night and day, between weekday and weekend,” says Susan Orlean, author of “Saturday Night in America,” a 1990
book. “Our notions of time and space are collapsing.”
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