Putting the Sunday in the Super Bowl

Some time ago on T&S, I survived a discussion on the history of Sunday (got no t-shirt though). That knock-down drag-out event included some talk of sports, but overall was pretty general. In light of the upcoming Super Bowl I thought it might be fun(?) to look at the rise of Sunday sport more specifically. So get out the nachos and dip. Or lace up the gloves, or whatever.

This isn’t meant to provoke another tiresome debate over what’s right or wrong on Sunday, but to try to understand how sport became common that day. I hope comments will go in that direction. I also hope for world peace.

Super Bowl Sunday is such a prominent part of the American cultural landscape that maybe only a few egghead historians (or die-hard Sabbatarians) would even stop to wonder how in the world “Sunday” and “Super Bowl” ever wound up in the same phrase at all.

It wasn’t inevitable.

The Puritans would have been horrified at the phrase. Most of them were not against sport per se, but they were most energetically against sport on Sunday.

They were convinced that the Sabbath had shifted from Saturday to Sunday, and that the Sabbath commandment’s ban on work somehow banned play as well.

But most Americans, even if they were Christians, were not Puritans, and for these others Sunday wasn’t just a day that might include play but was actually the ideal day for play. Most, after all, didn’t know such a thing as the weekend, an English invention, until after 1920: until then, their only free day was Sunday.

The competing visions of Sunday were strong enough that struggles over Sunday sport, and Sunday anything else, were the predictable result, extending all the way from colonial times to the 1920s.

In other words, to precisely the time when Sunday professional football was born. The national debate ended just about then too, and mostly in favor of the Sunday sport people.

The NFL became possible at that moment for two main reasons.

The first was practical: Sunday was the only real day available for the pros. Saturday, the other serious possibility, was ruled by college football, which was far more popular than any pro version into the 1950s. The earliest pro leagues, made up mostly of factory workers, tried Saturdays, but they couldn’t compete with colleges and folded fast.

Right around the time of World War I a new league in the Midwest, which became the NFL, had the idea to try Sunday instead. Some professional baseball teams (not all) had tried the same for decades, once they realized that they drew their biggest crowds that day.

The NFL decided to imitate them: they built (well, mostly rented), and people came, even if for long in fewer numbers than college crowds.

But there was a second reason, besides convenience, why Sunday football came to pass (no pun intended): growing respectability, even reverence, for sport in general.

Games couldn’t be moved to Sunday simply because the day was available. Attitudes about sport and Sunday play had to change as well. Because though not all fans belonged to churches, of course, the vast majority did; in fact people were joining churches in record proportions by now. And without their general approval, there would be no pro sports on Sunday—as even those who liked Sunday play weren’t so sure they liked pro sports on their sacred day.

Those hesitations were overcome largely because sport itself was made sacred.

By 1900, more and more Christian leaders were mixing sport into a religious message often called “Muscular Christianity.” Mormons joined in this movement too: this was just about when gyms began showing up in church buildings and health became a big Mormon identifier.

In other words, religious leaders did to sport what had been done to so many other aspects of religion over the millennia: they “sacralized” it, bringing something once seen as profane into the realm of the sacred.

Jesus was now held up not merely as a perfect spiritual leader, but a perfect physical specimen and the “captain of the team.” Games were sanctified with prayer, even transformed into prayer. Father John O’Hara called Notre Dame football a “new crusade” which showed that “play can be offered as a prayer in honor of the Queen of Peace.” And Coach Jesse Harper of Notre Dame said that he got the “Notre Dame shift” (sending a man in motion), from Amos Alonzo Stagg, who in turn got it from God.

Reverent attitudes about sport were not universal, and they did not automatically lead to the acceptance of Sunday play. But once sport was sacralized, it proved difficult (and even seemed nonsensical) to banish it completely from society’s holy day.

Most ancient and more recent civilizations celebrated their holiest days with some form of sport—played not merely for fun, but to act out the great cosmic struggle of good versus evil, right versus wrong, even life and death. Such things transcended ordinary time, precisely one of the goals of a holy day.

At any pro football game today you’ll find the struggles and the timelessness in abundance. The ecstasy and crying and anger (not all of it beer-induced) suggest that fans are there for something more meaningful than fun or more important than their jobs or daily lives. The same holds true at BYU games, even without the beer.

Sport has always been uncannily good at condensing and giving tangible form to an achievement-oriented society’s highest and usually invisible values: courage, physical prowess, and especially winning.

Once Christian leaders and coaches saw the ability of sport to promote those virtues, and sacralize them, then Christian followers did the same—even on Sunday, when those virtues were arguably on greater display than any other day because of the proficiency of the athletes.

And make no mistake, winning was the greatest virtue of all, even on Sunday. Vince Lombardi was famous for his supposed quip that winning was the only thing, but less known is how central this sentiment was to his religious makeup. He found winning, and his other cherished values, present in both football and Catholicism and thus had no second thought about whether the game was suitable for Sunday, or whether to give away tickets to nuns and priests.

Other factors also mattered in the growth of Sunday football. Pro sport’s twin, business, was also sacralized in the US. So was a growing consumer culture, which included spectator sports. Also vital was a strong dose of patriotism: peculiarly American pro sports such as football and baseball, which began with the Star-spangled Banner from World War I on, were most sacred of all.

The growth of Sunday sport didn’t occur everywhere at once. Leading the way was the Midwest, where a largely Catholic and non-Puritan Protestant population had few qualms about Sunday recreation after church. The Northeast moved more slowly, thanks to its Puritan roots. The South, more relaxed on Sunday in the nation’s early years, was stricter by the 1920s and was thus the last holdout: pro teams emerged there only in the 1960s.

But clearly Sunday football in America is now widely entrenched, and Super Bowl Sunday most of all. Sunday debates about anything are all local now, or occur within specific religions or groups, which any Mormon knows. But that some churches put a giant television right in the middle of the building on Super Bowl Sunday, hold a “holy huddle,” “pre-game prayer,” a cheer, and a pep talk with the “team owner,” Jesus, reflects the generally successful sacralization of Sunday sport.

Super Bowl Sunday now has all the hallmarks of a holy day, whether understood in the sense of civic or traditional religion. The Super Bowl does not occur on Sunday coincidentally, or in spite of it being Sunday, but precisely because Sunday in general, and Super Bowl Sunday in particular, are holy to Americans, however differently they may understand the term.

For it is on holy days that a society collectively shows, for better or worse, what it values most. On display during the Super Bowl are the values of winning, religion, spectacle, festival, money, consuming rather than producing, and much more.

As James Michener once put it, an NFL game (and especially this game) is a strange mix of religion, strip-tease, violence, and patriotism.

All supremely American.

Most Mormons probably don’t love all of these values. Some won’t participate in Sunday sport at all, whether as athletes or spectators, and they always get a pat on the back for it.

But Mormons love most of these values enough that plenty have played in the Super Bowl, and far more have cheered them on, even felt a surge of pride when a player’s Mormonness or BYU connection is mentioned (except die-hard Ute fans maybe). Even if they may not cheer quite as loudly on Sunday as some other people. At least until Austin Collie catches a pass.

57 comments for “Putting the Sunday in the Super Bowl

  1. Some stakes schedule stake meetings on Super Bowl Sunday.

    I’m convinced that Christ will reappear at a little attended meeting that people will blow off for a sporting event or American idol final.

  2. That you assume it will have to be a meeting suggests your Mormon roots… The famous preacher Norman Vincent Peale was sure that if Christ were around “today” (the 1970s) He would most certainly be at the Super Bowl. The poet William Heyen put Him right on the field: Jesus would be a wide receiver, “great at catching,” feinting, making precise cuts, and “knocking off helmets with a stiff arm.” He would also, guessed Heyen, spike the ball in the end zone. Man.

  3. Very nice and somewhat ambivalent post, Craig. I like the idea that Super Sunday is something like a secular religious festival. The Jews had the festival of lights (Hanukkah) and the festival of booths (Sukkot). I’m sure these were as much civic celebrations as they were religious observances. We have the festival of sport (Super Sunday) and the memorial festival (Indy 500 on Memorial Day) and the festival of family at Thanksgiving (with football games by the Lions and Cowboys) followed by a shopping binge culminating in the festival of consumption at Christmas (along with a basketball game by the Celtics).

    So why has the Puritan treatment of Sunday become so normative for Mormonism?

  4. Well, given the labor issues in the NFL, I think we’ll have a Super Bowl next year in Dallas and then take a year off.

  5. Dave, I don’t develop this in my book but my sense is that early Mormons, born in an area of strong Puritan or at least Sabbatarian influence, simply accepted the common notion of the day, including the idea that Sunday was the transferred Sabbath and was to be observed as a Sabbath, rather than as the Christian “Lord’s Day” (as all Romance languages call the day, and call Saturday some version of “Sabbath”), and that “no work” also meant “no play.” There wasn’t much on that subject to think twice about: it’s mentioned only a few times in Mormon scripture.

    As for the civic or religious quality of the celebration, the point about American sports is that it’s tough to distinguish the two sometimes. Is the star-spangled banner purely civic? American patriotism is so tied up with traditional religions that it’s hard to separate out what that song might mean for someone, or some group.

  6. lol at your 2nd coming guess queuno. I wouldn’t be surprised except for that decent on the mount of olives scripture.

  7. Great post, Craig! And indeed a topic that could “provoke another tiresome debate over what’s right or wrong on Sunday”. But already 8 comments without going into that, so that’s a success.

    I’ll try a reflection from an international perspective. Do you think you can find similar American sacralization of sports in other countries? I do not mean the importance and attention given to sports, but an implicit or explicit connection with religion. From my European experience, I have never been aware of such. I never heard a Catholic sermon that would draw examples from athletes to praise certain virtues. While that is common in American Mormon talks. And hence not so easy to convey to a non-American audience, e.g. when it happens in a general conference talk.

  8. Sure, for most people football is play.
    For others, including security, those who set up the event, those who sell food at it, those who broadcast it, those who coach it, and even those that play it professionally–it’s work.
    I don’t think we should forget that aspect of it–in many ways, watching football is like going to an amusement park or a movie on Sunday. Your call on whether it’s right or wrong, but it’s not play for everyone.

  9. Thanks Wilfried; my experience at European sporting events isn’t as extensive as yours, but I’ve been to enough to have noticed exactly what you said: there can be a patriotic element, especially at international competitions, but even that is rarely tied to a specific religion. The one exception may be England, and not so much now as in the past, when some popular preachers used boxing metaphors, and some football (soccer) teams were celebrated at church services. But I’ve never seen that in mainland Europe. And you’re right: no connections in talks to sport. The one I remember came at a Mormon service, from a kid who tried hard not to openly lament that not playing on Sunday because of his new Mormon faith had relegated him to a third-rate soccer team. He left the church about a year later.

    Tim, you’re right that some work, and it’s regrettable because who doesn’t like to have Sunday off? But those claims usually neglect that someone always has to work on Sunday, and I mean more than doctors, nurses, cops, etc. In an industrial society you are making someone work as well on Sunday, even if you’re just sitting home (or at church). We might sit there quietly and congratulate ourselves on our restful Sunday, but forget that someone is still working at the power plant to keep us warm or cool. If you’re consuming dairy products someone is milking those cows 7 days a week. Yes if you’re watching the game someone is working for you as well on and off the air. You probably want phone and internet service on Sunday too, etc. So we’re all making someone work, and the debate might be over how many is enough. The thinking in countries that have a more recreational Sunday is that it would be nice for all to have Sunday off, but to make Sunday a nice day for most means that some have to work. And those working on Sunday will now (after the early industrial revolution at least) get some other day off.

  10. I noticed frequent use of the football team rhetoric and other sports analogies by teachers and leaders when I was a missionary in the MTC and in the field. I’m certain the intent was to speak to the young men in terms they could relate to, but it didn’t resonate with me on any level. (“Strap on your helmet, sister, and crush your opponent’s skull! GRRR!”)

    I feel similarly about sports stories in general conference now. My guess is that many women feel the same way I do.

  11. Sorry, I will be enjoying the game on Sunday. But I will not see it as Holy, (the game or of me).

  12. Some men, too, Maria. I agree with you. I’ve been involved in sports my whole life yet I find the sports lingo excessive and tiresome, as if everyone (especially every male) should understand. Analogies, metaphors should be as universal as possible, though none is probably perfect. But that sports metaphors are used frequently in a religious setting is, as Wilfried suggests, worth noting, and suggests the peculiar connection between sport and religion in American (maybe English) society, even Mormon society. Read Billy Graham’s sermons about Jesus the athlete…

    Bob, I don’t find it holy either. I’m simply trying to understand how Sunday sport happened. It wasn’t because of a decline in religiosity, as is often suggested (though that could be debated based on how you define the term). It rose precisely when church membership rose, and when sports became respectable in general: they long hadn’t been among the middle and upper classes.

  13. Our former bishop, speaking in Sacrament about the importance of keeping the sabbath, said this:

    In our great-grandfather’s day, it was called the Holy Sabbath;
    In our grandfather’s day, it was called the Sabbath;
    To our fathers, it was Sunday;
    Now it’s just the weekend.

  14. Interesting post, Craig. And I enjoyed your follow-on comment about where we draw the line on making others work on Sunday.

    Those in Mormon culture who don’t care to join in the national holiday that is Super Bowl Sunday are missing out. But it’s their choice; I respect that. But those who feign naivete and pretend that they don’t even know the event is happening are just self-righteous jerks.

    As for me and my house, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we will enjoy a spirit-filled Sunday afternoon with some snacks, friends, and lots of good will, as we enjoy the pleasant and restful activity of watching the Super Bowl. (However, we will likely change the channel during the Go Daddy.com commercials! Doh!) Kindly heaven will smile above as we put the Sunday in the Super Bowl once again this year.

  15. Thanks for comments all.

    Stephanie: maybe not if you try the early meeting. Lots of ward-hopping that day…

    ldsmom: that was a favorite saying from the 1920s actually, in American sabbatarian churches. And it’s more mythical nostalgia than history. In the ancient Christian Latin-speaking world, it was called the Lord’s Day. It still is in Romance-language countries. In northern Europe, even after the conversion to Christianity around 800, it was plain old Sunday. English Puritans around 1600 started calling it the Sabbath, and some traditions followed that, but others stayed with Sunday.

    The day has always been called all kinds of things, and the day has always had great if changing meaning, whatever the name, including today. The saying does reflect something accurately though: that most of us have a sense of history extending only to our own lifetimes and personal memories, and anything we see changing in a way we don’t like, during that lifetime, we tend to regard as “decline.” And ignore the fact that we ourselves have accepted practices which earlier generations would have considered “decline” but which we find perfectly normal because we’re not even aware that they were once controversial.

    For instance, when the weekend emerged in the late 19th century in England, some sabbatarians opposed it on the grounds that the Sabbath commandment says to work six days. But I don’t know too many Christians now, even Sabbatarians, who mind having a free Saturday from work, or who feel immoral because of it.

    Change in the way the day has been observed has been regular over the centuries: it didn’t start with great-grandfather and won’t end with us.

  16. I know for a fact that, when I was single, CES had firesides scheduled for Super Bowl Sunday for several years. I always came away thinking that the scheduling was deliberate. Those SBS firesides, which we watched at the Institute building, were always more heavily attended by the females in the ward.

    Looks like this year they are going with a January fireside followed by a March fireside, thus skipping February. Can’t say I disagree with that change.

  17. There’s a very fun passage in one of the “Little House on the Prairie” books in which Pa describes his shenanigans as a kid in his father’s very strict Sabbatarian household. You might enjoy it, Craig, if you haven’t already looked at it.

    I have a question about the way you’re using the word sacralize. I suppose I can see how sports have been sacralized in America to a certain extent. But then you refer to business being sacralized by Americans, as well, and I find this harder to swallow. Do you mean simply that Americans value business and prioritize it in our personal and collective lives? Or do you actually see elements of the sacred being injected to our getting and selling? I detect an undercurrent of anti-corporate anti-consumerism in the post (not that I necessarily disagree with it), and I wonder whether you’re using the idea of sacralized business mostly to underscore that critique.

  18. AHL Duke, interesting. I wondered about that first Sunday in February.

    Rosalynde, despite my strong crossover abilities (Jane Austen is still my favorite author) I haven’t read the Little House on the Prairie things. I just notice they’re on public TV all the time. I’d probably like it. As for sacralize, yes it’s a little vague, but you can find instances of injecting the sacred into business: JC Penney is the most famous example. Though a strict Methodist and Sabbatarian, he ran his stores 7 days a week in one mining town (and later on in far more towns; my dad worked for Penney’s 7 days a week when a young man) because he thought it did more religious good for people to shop and work than to carouse. Rhetoric about American business often approaches sacralization, in my view, and the reverence or deference paid in religious circles to wealthy business people has always struck me—as if suggesting that because of their success in one area we can assume their religiosity too. I’ve heard this more than once in talk about where to put ward boundaries: that for the sake of “leadership” you need to have a more prosperous element in the ward too. Rather than for the sake of all saints mixing. But maybe those aren’t convincing enough for you.

  19. Or maybe better yet Rosalynde, is the elevation of the work ethic as an unquestioned good. Work doesn’t necessarily have to extend to Sunday, of course, but once the work ethic is seen as an obvious value then its intrusion into a holy day will be hard to stop. If a business has to run on Sunday, well your job is sacred, that’s how you support your family. Precisely how Vernon Law reasoned when deciding whether to play pro baseball; he asked church authorities for advice in that vein and they confirmed him.

  20. Sunday has not always been held by all Christians to be the special, holy day that we think it should be. I’m not even sure the way early Mormons spent their Sundays would meet some of the high standards I hear expressed in church these days.

    That said, how do we justify all those Mormon athletes playing on Sunday?

  21. The Super Bowl is about money. It’s about which is the best beer. A few kids will make some money selling hot dogs. But the big money will go to gambling, BIG time. But at least no one will be feed to lions.

  22. Will: they justify it the same way most athletes (most of them Christian, many of them Sabbatarian) have justified it—by thinking of it as a living, by thinking of it as an expression of their gift from God, by thinking of the potential influence they can have, etc. Vernon Law reasoned that if he hadn’t played baseball, he would have been a farmer, and then he would have been working on Sunday for sure; in fact more often than, as a pitcher, he would have to play on Sunday. Just one example. It’s about choosing among competing and often equally valid priorities.

    Bob: no doubt it’s about money for a lot of people. But it doesn’t have a single meaning, no more than most things do. For some people it is about the transcendent quality of an epic struggle; for others it’s men running around in shorts and funny pads; for others it’s a waste of time and resources, and so on.

  23. One of my favorite Super Bowl Sundays was when I was at BYU. A couple of the sons of our stake president attended our student ward, and they invited several of us over to watch the Game at their place. The whole family really followed pro football, and it was almost embarrassing that their daughter knew more about the game than I did.

    I remember also that my mission farewell was on a Super Bowl Sunday. I was kind of surprised that most of the guys on my floor in Deseret Towers came to the farewell, even though we didn’t have the game on.

    So for me, at least, I can agree with the idea that church and the Super Bowl are easily entwined.

  24. Craig, thanks for the response. I’d probably choose a narrower definition of sacralize, but I do see what you mean and you provide interesting evidence for it.

    I’ll see if I can rummage up the Little House passage. You’d get a kick out of it.

  25. So, if I understand correctly, LDS people – with gymnasia abutting their chapels – sacralize sport more than other denominations?

  26. I’ll have to take a pass on this one–too hyped up on HGH right now to discuss intelligently. Oh, but I do want to thank Jesus and give him praise before I go. ;-)

  27. Paul B., I’m not saying that Mormons do this more; they may even do it less. But I think they also participate in making sports sacred, overtly or not.

  28. This post reminds me of a joke I heard at a training meeting at my stake center this week:

    A Jewish woman wants to watch a major sporting event, but it conflicts with Yom Kippur. She asks her Rabbi what she should do. His reply, “Well, my dear, that is why God invented TIVO. You can watch it later.” Her reply, “You mean I can TIVO Yom Kippur and watch it later? That’s great!”

  29. #33: Craig, ” (Mormons) I think they also participate in making sports sacred…”. Sports or football watching? (And the Jazz in SLC). What about Nascar? Too Evangelical? Or bass fishing? There is something odd here about the Mormon love of football.

    Again, I watch a lot of football and will be watching the Super Bowl. I played in the Church basketball leagues in my youth, and coached youth baseball for years.

  30. I think the point our bishop was making is that it is becoming more and more acceptable, even within the church, to be like the world in how we view the sabbath day. I have friends whose husbands and fathers are pastors in other faiths who see no problem in going out to eat or shopping or going out to see movies after their Sunday services are over–it’s their time off to do with as they please after church is what they told me. And they thought my family was “nuts” (their words) to not do those things or allow our kids to do those things on Sundays. I don’t think it is any coincidence that Monday night football and Super Bowl sundays became popular during the very same years we were counseled by our prophets to set those times aside for sabbath worship and family home evening. We can try to justify them by saying that watching a football game and throwing a party with our family and friends is quality bonding time…?! Or that because we have sports games in our buildings, then it’s ok to watch or participate in many of those same sports on Sunday. (Imagine a bishop saying that sacrament will be delayed so the elder’s quorum tie-breaker can be determined. I know–a bit extreme, but I was hoping to make a point.) As for the players and coaches, including the LDS ones, I’ll leave that between themselves and the Lord in how they provide for their families. But I know that having the Super Bowl on during what should be a quiet reverent Sunday does not invite the spirit into our home.

  31. Bob, Well football is probably where it happens most, but that only mirrors a wider American preference too. So it’s not so odd. I’m sure that other sports get the same sort of respect from some. I know Mormons in the south who love NASCAR.

    ldsmom, what do you mean by the world? The people you’ve described here are churchgoers. They’ve obviously found a way to feel religious and recreational. You can dispute whether their approach is really religious, but they have some good reasons to think it so. Recreation literally means re-creation, not rec-reation as we pronounce it, and re-creation was the whole point of a Sabbath: to commemorate the creation, to revitalize and prepare for a new week. It is perfectly debatable how that occurs, it seems to me, and maybe up to individuals, but it may involve activities that were once thought wrong. Your theme is “decline,” I infer, and I tried to address that in my last comment to you (the theme of that comment being, is change necessarily decline? Or more like reconfiguration?)

    In many European countries which have quieter Sundays than the US, restaurants and cafes are open as an important recreational activity, and give a lot of cooks at home a break: the cooks at the restaurant are now working, of course, but the thought is that this actually gives more people a break. And don’t knock the fellowship too much, as that was the main purpose of Sunday meetings in the ancient church, and can still be important; the preference for quiet and reverence on Sunday, or at church, developed only later, with Puritans; fellowship at church or at home can be a little noisy (go to a meeting in France), but it can certainly invite a good spirit for some people. A recent ward I was in asked that people arrive 7 minutes early to sit quietly, and I thought sure that works for some, but it wouldn’t work for others, or in other places I’ve been, and where the spirit is different but also possibly livelier and happier.

  32. It would be interesting to compare observance of the Sabbath in Europe to that in the US. My impression in Germany was that almost all businesses close down on Sunday. Granted, they’re not closed down for religious reasons–it’s more of a lifestyle choice. Makes it easier for members who work in retail, though. Anyone know if they regularly hold soccer games on Sundays in Europe?

  33. Craig, I’ve lived in Europe for many years before moving back to the States–my mother is German, so I am very familiar with how Sundays are observed in Germany, at lest before 2000. There are strict laws of what activites can be done on Sundays–no mowing your grass or washing your cars. Everyone is required by law to keep their activities quiet (the so-called quiet laws by the Americans.) I miss those Sundays. Yes, people were out and about, taking walks, visiting relatives, etc. A party for a sports team would be considered in poor taste, especially since a raucous get-together could break the quiet laws, resulting in a very large fine. VERY FEW cafes and restaurants are open, usually only those in tourist areas or travel centers, such as train stations. Being there made it so much easier to teach our kids the spirit of the sabbath. Sundays are not for recreation–they are for us to recharge our spiritual selves and rest from the busyness of the rest of the week, and to take the time to worship the Lord, serve one another, build and strengthen each others’ testimonies, and to teach the gospel.

  34. Tim, soccer games are indeed regularly held on Sunday, though that happened more recently in Europe than in the US.

    ldsmom, I guess I wasn’t clear or you aren’t convinced by my point about re-creation: it is definitely about recharging your spiritual self, but the question of how to do that is to me an open one. People have different ways and needs in that regard. You’re right about German Sundays being quieter, certainly in smaller towns, but in the big towns where I’ve been there (last summer Berlin) restaurants are plenty open and there are certainly Sunday sports. I had France more in mind with the lively Sundays, and also Belgium.

    From my own experience and reading, supposedly secular Europe has quieter Sundays (and weeknights) because it is a less commercially oriented culture than the supposedly more religious US (though that is changing some), and thus has stronger regulations/customs about when things can be open (or how many weeknight activities schools should have). European Mormons I know have expressed the view that to them Family Home Evening was an invention for overly busy Americans who don’t have enough time for their families; it was self-evident that weeknights should be with family. I’m sure this is a generalization, just as their characterization of American families is, but as a general pattern I think it’s true. A commercially oriented culture brings busier Sundays.

  35. In Japan, sumo wrestling involves referees who are Shinto priests who scatter salt and bless the ring before each wrestling match. It is an explicit holdover from the days of giving express religious significance to sports competitions, like the rubber ball contests played in Meso-America.

    Japanese baseball is intensely followed, and the players are expected to treat play on the team as the equivalent of a religious discipline on a par with being hair-shirt wearing, self-flagellating monks. If you don’t suffer, you don’t deserve to win. It is an expression of the same kind of mixture of militarism, nationalism and religion that led to the cult of emperor worship leading up through World War II.

    A friend of mine who is Catholic loves living in Idaho Falls because he can go to Saturday evening mass, and on Sunday there are few Mormons on the golf courses in town or the ski slopes at Grand Targhee. He says it is a religious experience for him (he really is a sincere and relatively conservative Catholic).

    My sense is that the Church used to be much less strict about Sabbath Day activities. I recall a story about J. Golden Kimball being sent to speak at a stake conference in the early years of the 20th Century. The summer had been unusually rainy, so the regional softball tournament had been delayed and finally scheduled on the same Sunday as the stake conference. When Kimball saw the sparse turnout at church, and found out why, he proceeded to walk on down to the softball diamond and stood out on the pitcher’s mound, interrupting play as he presented his sermon to the stake members who filled the bleachers.

  36. Very interesting examples Raymond, thanks. I focused mostly on Europe, but from the cross-cultural stuff I read I definitely had the impression that the transcendent potential of sport is everywhere.

    P.G. Wodehouse used to call a golf course “nature’s cathedral,” and he told a hilarious story about golfers who attended churches near courses, simply depositing their clubs on the church porch during services, then after services going out to play.

  37. I confess that I will probably watch the game, too, and I will be rooting for New Orleans just to spite all the jerks who had no sympathy for the people there in the wake of Katrina. But reading through much of the discussion above, I am reminded of Terrell Givens’ indictment (my word) of Mormons for sacralizing the trivial and trivializing the sacred.

  38. Yes, what was said supra about European traditions is true, though traditions do differ slightly from country to country. From my Belgian experience (which is certainly valid for more European countries) I would say:
    – (socialist) laws generally impede working on Sundays, to protect workers and employees from being exploited;
    – “quiet laws” protect the calm that should prevail on Sundays (no lawn mowers, no construction to your own home, etc.)
    – family recreation and social-cultural events are very much encouraged (which of course implies that some people have to work, but they usually get extra compensation and extra vacation for it)
    – that kind of recreation is considered an excellent way to “recharge” for the next week (the “dead atmosphere” prevailing in most places in Utah on Sunday would be considered pretty depressing, indeed part of a “puritan” tradition that was never part of the prevailing Catholic approach to Sunday)
    – the Catholic church allows to attend Saturday evening mass so that people can use their Sunday for e.g. outings to the country side.

    Mormons in Europe usually stay close to the Sunday traditions prevailing in their country, meaning that after the 3 hour block, the door is open to whatever is possible in the country for wholesome recreation.

  39. I know plenty of religious people who interpret the Sunday /Sabbath to mean avoiding work, but who honestly and sincerely believe recreation and play and restaurants and movies and birthday parties are permissible.

    I think that since President Kimball enunciated rather strict teachings about the Sunday-Sabbath, LDS views and practices have also become stricter than in the past.

    When I was growing up in the 1960s on the east coast, we (and other ward members) commonly went to restaurants or McDonalds on Sunday, and never considered that to violate the Sunday-Sabbath. Between the two sessions of stake conference held at a university campus, we and a large number of stake members purchased lunch at the university cafeteria. Hard to imagine that happening today.

    My wife, growing up in SLC in the 1960s, would spend Sunday afternoons with her cousins at their grandparents house, riding in go-karts, playing volleyball, and other recreation. They did not consider it violative of the Sunday-Sabbath at the time, but many of the cousins would never dream of doing such a thing with their children or grandchildren today.

    I honestly cannot remember whether, when I was growing up, I ever was invited or attended a Sunday birthday party. I don’t think we had any kind of family rule about that.

    I served my mission at the beginning of the Kimball administration. The strict interpretation of the Sunday-Sabbath had not yet made it down to our mission in Mexico. The long standing custom in our mission was (and continued to be) that all missionaries in the district or zone would gather Sunday evening at a restaurant to have dinner. I am pretty sure that custom has been eliminated in the stricter Sunday Sabbath environment in the Church today.

    My bishop while I was young(who later became one of the original regional representatives of the 12), lived in a beach front house, and he and his family considered recreational boating perfecting consistent with the Sunday-Sabbath in the 1960s and 1970s. I doubt that many LDS today would agree.

    As a side note, my father-in-law was rarely able to attend his home ward when his children were young because he worked Sundays for a Church owned media business.

  40. Thanks for comments all.

    Jay, of course one person’s sacred could be another person’s profane, which makes that lament tricky.

    Wilfried, it’s interesting that quiet laws don’t necessarily lead to an uneventful day; a Belgian Sunday is usually fun as well.

    DavidH, nice examples. My parents met in LA during the 50s because after the regional choir practice all the young adults (then known by those immortal names M-Men and Gleaners) went to Foster’s Freeze. That’s where they started talking. In today’s Mormon culture, they never would have met (Outer Limits Theme playing in background, and a Statistics Professor wincing).

    I talked to a lot of Mormons from their generation and they all indicated similar things: and the question would be, is everyone better off for it? Which do they like better? And the continued laments about how poorly LDS people keep the Sabbath do seem odd, in light of the currently stricter Sunday, don’t you think?

    As I indicated in the post: it’s worth considering how the Sabbath commandment’s ban on work somehow was interpreted to ban play as well… The Puritans started it. Must it be so? The point isn’t to say oh whatever you do is fine. It’s rather to leave it up to individuals to take responsibility, and to imply that maybe there’s a wider range of things possible than might be supposed, depending on the situation. We need rest and recharging, no doubt about it. Is it possible to wear yourself out with a day full of church meetings? And to recharge with some recreational activity? It’s also possible to wear yourself out playing, too. Scenes in 19th century Paris have hordes of families rushing to the countryside, to spend their Sunday there, and getting home late only to miss the last tram and having to walk the last few miles home with kids on their backs. Exhausted by the end of the day. To me, individuals have to figure out what works.

  41. I really enjoyed this, Craig H. Not often at my age I learn more that actually gives me a new perspective on daily living. I don’t think, however, that descriptions of “how it is/was” in the sixties or various countries, etc., can be relied upon as indicative of others in the same setting. My family in all my growing-up years in Utah County which included the sixties, observed a strict Sunday “rest.” No TV, no play clothes (Sunday best only), a simple evening “meal” of bread and honey in milk, no skipping of church for any reason. My father died on a Saturday afternoon. He’d been in the hospital for three weeks. None of us missed church to be with him (but we did of course spend the day/night other than that with him), and all of us flocked to church the morning after he died. It gave me great comfort knowing we were all together and we were behaving as he taught by example. Now you may ask, would we have skipped church had we thought the doorstep of his departure was imminent? I like to think it wasn’t an issue because we earned it.

  42. Thanks Gaila, certainly much of the talk is of general impressions, mixed with specific anecdotes that may or may not fit the general trends. I’m sure there are others like you too.

  43. Ahhh The Colts defense has been playing without three main starters for a long time. Powers didn’t play against the jets so he could get better. Brocks ultimately a starter just not at DE because Mathis and Freeney are so good. The Saints on the other hand have a bad defense and Manning will kill them up. Brees will fumble the ball at least once and turn it over. Take a look at his record, he lost 6/10 fumbles for the season. The saints defense will lose it for them. With the exception The Colts defense has gotten better each game. The saints arent very good closers, the Colts are the best at playing 60 mins. Colts by at least 2 tds.

  44. But the SAINTS are playing !!!
    I’ll be watching the game. My parents didn’t have too many rules about Sundays while I was growing up and yet we always felt we were honoring the Sabbath. We even went to church on vacations – nothing like Sacrament Mtg and then back to Disneyworld :). No shopping or movies, but we occasionally eat out b/c it was/is a treat for my mom – a guaranteed day for her not to have to cook. We do hold season tickets for Duke b-ball, though, and whichever branch of the family has 9a-12p church that year gets the Sunday games so no one skips church for it ! The main thing is always that we keep it a family day. Just about the only day we have together.

  45. Craig,
    I don’t care what you say. I know for a fact that Satan himself was behind the recent change to having the Superbowl on the first Sunday in February, thereby destroying a good 2/3 of the pre-game munching that is standard Superbowl behavior. Nothing you say will change my mind on this.

  46. I enjoyed this post but not enough to watch the game tomorrow. I love sports but not the NFL (although I am interested in the controversial anti-abortion commercial that will be aired). Will have to read more about the Jesus as perfect athlete. To world peace!

  47. Craig, great post and good comments. Interesting.

    Hunter #19

    But those who feign naivete and pretend that they don’t even know the event is happening are just self-righteous jerks.

    Or maybe they just really don’t care about professional football. I knew the SB was coming up because it’s alway sometime after the college bowl games. But I didn’t know which Sunday it was until I read this post. OK, I still don’t but I assume it’s tomorrow (er…today). I have no idea who’s playing in it. And I can tell you that none of my kids knows it’s tomorrow (er…today).

    It’s not because I hate sports and it’s not because I think you’re evil if you watch sports on Sunday. (I love BYU football and have been attending games since Sheide was the quarterback. And I’ll probably watch some of the Olympics on Sunday if I’m interested.) Fortunately my husband and I are pretty much in sync with that and neither of us pay attention to pro sports. It’s possible.

    OTOH, I’m pretty sure I’m a self-righteous jerk. But it’s not because I don’t usually watch sports on Sunday. There are just so many other reasons.

  48. Alison, pro sports certainly have all kinds of trouble, which have little to do with Sunday play. College sports aren’t so pristine either. I suppose the more money that’s involved the greater the potential for problems. But there are some great people too at any level.

  49. But those who feign naivete and pretend that they don’t even know the event is happening are just self-righteous jerks.

    Funny – I didn’t see this until Alison referenced it. Was this in reference to my comment #16, Hunter? If so, you could call me “hopelessly uninformed about professional sports” (by choice). Or “out of touch with what is [apparently] important American Culture”. Sure, guilty as charged – not having a t.v. helps with that. But “self-righteous jerk” is a bit much for not realizing the Super Bowl was this Sunday until you read about it on T&S.

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