I’ve noticed several friends on social media hashtagging their Saturday and Sunday excursions #protectingweekends. Usually these pictures accompany a weekend adventure into the city, a picture of delightful-looking brunch food, a visit to mountain scenery or botanic gardens, resplendent paintings, lovely latte art. I was curious as to whether this was a new trend, and if so, what it meant. So I found the the Instagram account associated with the hashtag, @protectingweekends. Founder (and D.C. resident) Alexandra Saper puts it thus:
We live in a society where people are always rushing to the next thing; where value, worth, and success are measure by how many hours we work or how little sleep we get; where relationships and rest and joy are pushed to the wayside because we’re “just too busy.” Protectingweekends [sic] is about taking those moments back. It’s about … pursuing relationships, finding adventure, loving others, creating beautiful things, investing in community, enjoying hobbies, and choosing joy. It’s about finding a day during the week to slow down, unplug, and do something life-giving. It’s about embracing a new culture where people matter more than professional success, and where our lives are driven by joy more than climbing the career ladder or checking off that to-do list.
It’s an interesting idea—and an old one. One of the first societal practices of weekend protection that comes to mind is, of course, the Sabbath. Throughout religious history, there have been communal rituals of rest: times of work, and times of stillness. The Sabbath was dedicated to an absence of work: it was a time of contemplation and communion. It reinforced an ethic that has faded in some (more overworked) groups of American society: the idea that we are more than money, work, and accomplishments. The idea that a rejuvenation of soul, mind, body, and community are important to human flourishing.
But in the collapse of religious rituals such as the Sabbath, where do we turn for rest? No day of the week is holy or set apart: we run frenziedly through the hours of our lives. Weekends meld into weekdays—even if we’re not doing career “work” of some sort, we are often cramming our days full with social obligations, meal prep for the week ahead, lists of chores and gardening tasks that must be done. Our weekends may present different sorts of work—but it’s still a lot of work.
In the absence of a meaningful weekend ritual, we turn to new, secularized traditions for comfort or peace: we start brunching regularly with friends, going to concerts, visiting museums. And in the age of social media, we can connect these experiences with a sort of “community” by hashtagging them #protectingweekends. In this way, we mimic the religious rituals and communities of times past.
None of these new practices (brunch, museums) are bad, of course. They can still be full of meaning and community. They can still nurture peace in our souls. But perhaps they fall prey to consumerism in ways that older weekend “protections” did not: our modern traditions often seem more passive, more consumptive, more focused on things than on people or philosophical truths. Weekend brunches can be lovely—but they do they hold the meaning or communal intimacy of Sabbath meals or family gatherings past?
Additionally, the presence of social media throughout our weekends seems likely to hamper true rest: doing things for, or in the presence of, an online community makes it difficult to fully focus on the present moment. Rather than attending to what the present company might enjoy most, we begin catering to potential “likes” or “favorites.” Social media continues to put us in the box of performance, rather than enabling us to embrace the freedom of stillness, of privacy. Again, this is not always true. Social media isn’t inherently bad—it’s a tool. But obsession over people-pleasing is a tendency we are all susceptible to.
“Protecting” a weekend should incorporate both a communal and a personal element—reaching out, while also nourishing one’s own soul. Perhaps this could involve putting aside needless distractions: any technology that impedes rather than fosters your ability to be present and mindful. It could involve scheduling a meeting or two with just a few close friends—making a meal together, or going on a hike. Perhaps it could involve baking something, and making extra to give to a neighbor—or writing a few letters to faraway family members. These would be ways in which to reach out, give, cultivate community.
Personal rejuvenation might involve reading a book—one that isn’t for work, one that instead stretches or comforts your mind (depending on what you need). Extra sleep—something Americans already lack—could be incorporated into the day. Going to a concert, even by oneself, can be an enjoyable experience: music is always refreshing. Enjoying a long walk or bike ride (especially in the spring weather) could also help provide needed moments of solitude. Visiting church is the perfect element to incorporate into a “protected” weekend, because it is both personally and communally rejuvenating.
Protecting a weekend is about more than saving time for “fun stuff” (although fun is always important). It’s also about the deep need that every human has for silence, rest, and peace. It’s about the mental and physical exhaustion we face when we refuse to stop rushing about. It’s about seeking to find a quiet space in the midst of frenzied lives, in order to cultivate relationships and mindfulness. Though it is difficult to achieve, I think protecting weekends is an admirable goal. Even an admirable hashtag.