Why Medieval Serfs Had More Vacation Time Than You Do Today

By | September 30, 2019

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From Pieter Breugel's The Harvesters. Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

Modern technology and social changes have, generally speaking, made the world a better place. Medical advances such as antibiotics, inoculation, preventative medicine, and hygiene have all contributed to longer, healthier lives. Curiously, recent scholarship has shown where modern society is lacking over our medieval forebearers: Leisure.

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Pieter Bruegel, The Peasant Dance. Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American worker received 15 paid vacation days after five years of service in 2017. In contrast, nations such as France are much more generous with their paid vacation days, routinely giving 30. However, even modern French workers would drool in jealousy if they found out how many days vacation the average European medieval peasant got: Between one third to half of the year.

Granted the work of a medieval serf was much more physical and laborious than most modern workers. Still, the labor, which almost always was agricultural, was dependent on seasons which meant that there were extended slack times throughout the working year. This meant that during certain times of the year, such as planting and harvest, a serf would work more hours in a week than a modern worker.