As we enter the summer months, this usually means unbearably hot weather, stifling humidity, more traffic, and higher petrol prices. However, for many of us, if all else fails, today’s word is the one welcomed event of the summer: holidays! Whether you’re planning an adventurous 2 week trip abroad, a relaxing getaway to the Costa del Sol, or just a couple of days roughing it in a caravan, there are few things as quintessentially British as the holiday.
Even the word itself is British! Our word “holiday” originated in the 900s as the Old English as háligdæg, literally translated as holy day. Originally, as the name itself states, the term was used to denote a specific religious day, from major holidays to feast days and specific saint days. Several hundred years after its introduction, the word began to be generalized, first meaning a day of recreation and then being expanded to mean any particular time away from one’s work, or, in modern terms, a vacation.
Holiday in history
While the word itself is nothing new in English, the modern concept, as we understand it, is barely 150 years old. Originating with the Victorians, the idea of taking a holiday was the result of a combination of factors: Britain was becoming more urbanized and industrial; transportation was becoming cheaper and more accessible; and many workers themselves were achieving a higher standard of living, which gave them disposable income and time for leisure. From a few shillings to visit Blackpool via steam train, the holiday industry in the UK has and continues to be an engine of growth, with 2013 estimates indicating that Brits spent £23.6 billion is domestic tourism and £24.2 billion when travelling abroad. Overall, at almost £127 billion, travel and tourism account for 9% of the UK’s GDP.
The first known use of the word appears in The Gospel of Mark, in the Lindisfarne Gospels, circa 950, where the Anglo-Saxon word haligdagum is literally translated to mean Sabbath. In the Middle English poem, Cursor Mundi, we can see that, by around 1325, the word has been expanded from a purely religious sense to a more religious/non-working sense, “Jesus went him for to play, with children on a holiday.” Finally, in the Letter-book of Gabriel Harvey, in an entry from 1573, we can finally see the beginning of the modern utilization of the word, as Harvey writes that, “in the holidays, he took a journey into the country.”