Suzanne Fields

In a typical Christmas market in Dortmund, Hans-Peter Arens sells famous hams, and his son nearby offers mulled Gluewein, the popular seasonal wine. They're among four generations of the family operating a Christmas market. "I know that the church encourages reflection," he tells der Spiegel, the German news magazine, "but I can only be reflective when the cash register is ringing."

It's easy to see why the state-enforced day of rest is not popular with merchants. The Chamber of Commerce scoffs that the court is "out of touch with reality" and argues that eliminating shopping days in a recession doesn't make business sense. Tourists who come to the city only on weekends will take their Sunday business elsewhere, or buy online where there are no restrictions.

"This ruling is like Marie Antoinette saying, 'Let them bake cake,'" complains a querulous patron at a bakery counter, eager to return to buy fresh bread on his day of rest. But support for the ban cuts across political and religious lines, left and right. Many Germans, religious and not, support Sunday's "specialness," if not its sanctity.

"The judges did not just endorse the division of time marked by Christianity," observes Die Welt, a conservative newspaper. "We people as social animals are duty bound and justified in dividing our time (by being) together." The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung agrees, noting that those who want "to play cards, go for a walk or simply laze around" can use a quiet Sunday, too. The center-left Suddeutsche Zeitung concedes the decision sounds antiquated because it runs against the "economic liberal zeitgeist." But that's all right because the enforced day off is a benefit to everyone.

Germans, like other Europeans, often sneer at American capitalism for commercializing culture around the clock, but as in so much other attitudinizing, where you stand always depends on where you're sitting. Europeans generally don't like to work as hard as Americans, who demand marginal tax rates and economic incentives that Germans, French and Italians can hardly fathom.

Americans prize family values, too, and attend church and synagogue at much higher rates than anywhere else in the world. Fights over Sunday closing, enforced by "blue laws," were once a staple of small-town America, too. We no longer rely on the government to tell us how to enjoy our Sundays, but it's hard to find figurines of dried plums in Peoria.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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