Vacuous Vacation or Summer Holiday?

Marrying a man born and raised in the British Empire, who speaks “authentic” English expanded my vocabulary. While some words, like queue, made it into my daily speech, others, like bonnet for the hood of the car, never did.

But there is one British word that I have gladly adopted and think is much more joyful and suitable than its American counterpart. I love the way that the British go on holiday rather than vacation. After all, vacation focuses on what you are leaving behind. You are vacating work or school or your daily routine. Holiday is full of mystique and charm, focusing on thrilling activities that will take the place of everyday life.

Holidays are distinct from “holy” days, set aside by religious or even civic duty. When Arthur Ransome titled one of his children’s books, Winter Holiday, he wasn’t talking of Christmas, but rather of what Americans might call winter break. Not surprisingly, as a winter holiday it was not used for going to the dentist, watching TV and sleeping late but instead was a period of adventure and excitement for the protagonists of his story. You might sleep away a break but who would so mistreat a holiday?

There is another dimension to this seemingly minor vocabulary difference. When you vacate or take a break from something, there is an implication that it is a burden you are happy to shrug off. In contrast to that, a holiday means that there is a fleeting (after all holidays can’t last forever) opportunity on the calendar. A subtle point, perhaps, but subtleties can have big impact.

So, as students come to the end of their school year, I don’t want to wish them a happy vacation. Anyone with a few unencumbered days should have plans to execute, ideas to implement, and dreams to realize. If imaginations are too shriveled to think beyond the ordinary, I would suggest tossing the electronics and investing in copies of some classic British children’s literature like that of Richmal Crompton, Enid Blyton, E. Nesbit, and of course, Arthur Ransome. Expand your vocabulary as you read them aloud to your children on a blanket at the beach or park. After all, how often do holidays come around?


8 thoughts on “Vacuous Vacation or Summer Holiday?”

  1. Wow – Swallows & Amazons! Probably the best English-language children’s series ever written! I own all the books, and reread the series in its entirety every few years. I notice something new every time. Enid Blyton could not write as well as Arthur Ransome, but she could tell a crackling good story. The Adventure series is Indiana Jones for the junior set! Another good English writer is Rosemary Sutcliff. She wrote historical fiction about Roman Britain, King Arthur, etc. Her books might appeal to slightly older children, but in my view, she and Arthur Ransome duke it out for the best English language children’s writer of the 20th century. Oh, and while the earlier Swallows & Amazon movies are great, skip the recent remake. The director decided to “improve” the story by adding a silly spy plot – ughhh!

    1. I don’t know why, but we never read Rosemary Sutcliff although I had heard of her. I’ll make a point to try her. I also didn’t know there were newer movies; we just keep watching the old ones. I guess they were recent enough that we have them on DVD not VHS.

  2. I love the concept of “holiday” rather than vacation. My family is a great fan of Arthur Ransome’s books and I’ve been reading one or more aloud every summer to my children for about 29 years! It was nice to hear someone else recommend these books. We’ve also read many of Enid Blyton’s books–her Adventure series was among the first books my youngest son ever read by himself. My 8 children have all been inspired toward more constructive and creative play during their “holidays” by the delightful characters in these stories, but I had never quite thought of the word itself in quite that way before. Thank you for sharing the thought and I will be passing it on to my grown children who are now parents of their own young adventurers!

    1. Terri, your words brought a big smile to my face. Have you seen the movies of Swallows and Amazons, Coot Club and The Big Six? They are charming and lovely to watch once you have read the books. Have a lovely summer holiday!

      1. Yes, I’ve enjoyed those movies, but my 2 youngest, still living at home, refuse to see the newest one that came out in 2016 because they felt it would ruin the mental pictures they have created of the children and their stories. Through the years my children have had their own “Swallowdale”, and “Rio Bay”, etc. in the fields, forests and stream surrounding our home, made “Swallows” flags for their camps and entertained “Friendly Natives” complete with “rations of chocolate”. With 8 children spaced 25 years apart I’ve been blessed with a “John” and a couple of “Susan’s” to make sure the “Titty’s” and “Rogers” are properly cared for, although this “Mummy” and her “Baby Bridgets” usually came along for the adventure when she could! I am on my 4th rereading of the series at this time. “Swallows and Amazons forever”!

        1. Teri, I didn’t even know that there were newer movies. The ones we have are probably at least twenty years old. I do understand not wanting to borrow someone else’s mental pictures. We had a sailing dinghy named – naturally – Swallow, and ginger beer was a favorite drink on our children’s adventures. Such fun!

        2. *Correction–I should have said “Mother (instead of “Mummy”) and Ship’s Babies” to be truly “Swallowish”.

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