Blue Law (noun) 1. Any puritanical law that forbids certain practices, especially drinking or working on Sunday, dancing, etc. …the use of the word blue came from a connotation that suggested a rigidly moral position, akin to the term ‘bluenose’ that refers to a prudish, moralistic person. --FreeDictionary.com
Thank you, Puritans.
You see, because of you, next Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, we here in the Bay State can’t shop, can’t consume or purchase or start our yearly holiday gift buying frenzy. Bummer, huh?
In 47 other states, those folks will be able to rush through their Turkey Day meals, salute their families with a quick “I’M OUTTA HERE!” and then run out to the malls and shops and stores, credit cards in hand. They’ll get to line up like cattle before the locked doors of Wal-Mart and Target and Best Buy, and then count down like a consumer choir to the breathtaking moment when the glass partitions will whoosh open. Then in mobs of jostling people they’ll sprint into these cathedrals of commerce, and trample underfoot the employees who gave up their holiday meals to stock the shelves with flat screen TV’s and Barbie Doll Playsets and George Foreman Grills and Chia Pets. O joy!
But then there are those sad sacks like us, and our neighbors in Rhode Island and Maine, who aren’t thus blessed to live in a Puritan free zone. Poor us. We’ve got the blue laws, legal prohibitions against store openings on Thanksgiving (Christmas too). Blue laws: remnants of religiously created legal strictures against activity on the Sabbath and other holidays. Just a few generations ago these laws, which were first passed in the 1620’s, rigidly enforced the Puritan beliefs of the first folks to settle the Bay State. Back then there was not much a person could do on a Sunday but go to church, and often for two hours or more, both on Sunday morning and Sunday afternoon.
On that Sabbath or holy day (which later morphed into the modern term “holiday”), there was no dancing, no drinking, no commerce, no playing, no music, basically no fun. There’s a good reason the newspaper columnist H.L. Menken once defined Puritanism as, “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy.”
Puritans were a dour lot. They were intolerant of any and all who were not of their self-perceived “pure” faith, infamously hanging Mary Dwyer and three other Quakers on the Boston Common in 1660 for heresy. There’s also that pesky little chapter in Massachusetts history about the Salem witch trials too. Puritans hated the Catholics too, whom they called “Papists” and basically were an intolerant bunch. (I get to say this because as a Congregational minister I and the church I serve are descended from this band of believers. We’re a lot nicer now. Really.)
Back to our leftover blue laws. If we can strip away the excesses of those now mostly repealed puritanical laws, we might see that the Puritans’ motives in passing such prohibitions were in a way good, even noble.
Puritans recognized the very human need to rest one day a week. To rest as a spiritual discipline. To put down the plow, the hammer, the anvil, the sewing needle, and instead worship God and be with loved ones and the community. Though the Puritans’ reasoning for a Sabbath came from the Bible, all humans, regardless of faith or no faith: we know we need consistent days set aside for renewal, sleep, play, life, love, and prayer. At our best we remember that a life which is all about work, consumption, and frenetic forward motion: that’s not a very good life.
So here’s an eggnog toast to our fellow citizens across the United States who next Thursday will get to shop in the shadow of Thanksgiving Day. Good luck with that. We in Massachusetts will be home all day and all night. Sleeping on the couch. Watching a football game. Playing Scrabble with cousins and nieces and nephews and friends. Munching on a turkey sandwich late that evening.
Wish we could join you at the mall but we’ll be busy not being busy.
Thank you, Puritans.