Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Is It Safe To Go Back To Work Yet?

If you don't already know, you may be interested to learn that the day of Immaculate Conception, 8 December, marks the traditional start of the nativity scene-making season. It's not official, as you can get cracking on the manger and the animals whenever you fancy, but tradition - and don't we know it - has its place in Mallorcan and Spanish society and also in the calendar. Hence, 8 December is really when the nativity figurines need to be dragged out of the attic and dusted down for another festive season, one which lasts until ... . Well, when does it really stop? It may not be the same across the rest of the country but in Mallorca, no sooner have the Kings been and delivered their presents, than the natives are building bonfires and preparing to roar around the streets, setting fire to the place. The saints Anthony and Sebastian have a great deal to commend them but they do rather get in the way.

It does of course depend upon your perspective and also has something to do with where you live. Not everywhere downs tools because of Tony and Seb's feast days, but even where they don't, there are still fiestas to be had. And what's more, it's only a couple of weeks before everyone's out on the streets again, this time shunning their demons' outfits in favour of lavish costumes for Carnival.

The Christmas festivities, let's call them winter festivities in order to get to their lengthy essence, straddle some two months - longer if Carnival is later - and then, once the final sardine has been buried at Carnival, it's a case of soon be Easter.

It is tempting to conclude that no one is, therefore, working over all this time. It is an erroneous conclusion. There are, after all, the short-contract shop employees who are brought in for the Christmas season and then winter sales. Others are hard at it, such as the legal profession, charged with overseeing the future of the King's sister. Footballers are footballing, except when they have their week off and can catch a cheeky Christmas mince pie and glass of ginger wine.

Stereotyping is a trap that is easily fallen into, and apparent idleness is one that Mallorca and Spain shares with other parts of the Mediterranean. As the German newspaper "Bild" once demanded of the Greeks: "get up early and work all day", just like the Germans. But the winter festivities highlight not so much a reluctance to work as a mentality issue that surrounds the "puente" bridge weekend, of which there are potentially various ones throughout the year.

"The Wall Street Journal", in looking at the bridge-weekend phenomenon, made an assessment which led it to suggest that it is possible, what with paid time off as well, to have fifty days off a year. It also discovered that, apparently, employees needed bridge weekends as these were escape valves from the pressures of work. It has been said that the Spanish do in fact, and in general, work longer hours than most other Europeans. By the same token, however, there have been surveys to suggest that they don't. You pays your money ... .

At the heart of all this are concerns regarding productivity and competitiveness. If there is a stereotyping, then it is one that the Spanish government (currently acting government) shares. The move to alter public holidays so that if they fall on, for example, a Tuesday, they are taken instead on a Monday was a deliberate attempt to put an end to the extended bridge weekend. If the Tuesday is a holiday, then so is the Monday (and possibly the rest of the week), and there has long been a temptation, so it has been said, to indeed consider this to be a week off.

The government doesn't seem to have gone ahead with this. Immaculate Conception will fall on a Thursday this year, two days after Constitution Day. There goes a week for you, and a whole bridge week not assisted by the apparent daftness of having two national holidays within the space of three days. In truth, most of these public holidays don't lend themselves to be being moved. They are so much part of the calendar, whether for religious or secular reasons.

Might a change in government be more insistent on moving these days? If it turns out to be one influenced by anti-religious sentiment, then perhaps so, but any politician needs to be wary with tampering with the holiday love affair and so therefore upsetting the citizens.

The bridges and the extended winter festivities seem unlikely to disappear any time soon, and the tourism/travel industry will hope to goodness that they don't: bridge weekends are good business. Still, there are always those for whom these holidays are all but irrelevant. Like those who work for newspapers. Day off? What's that?

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