Penny Faust of the Oxford Jewish Congregation

MOST of us take them for granted; currently there are very few countries where they are not seen both as beneficial and an entitlement; as we come to the end of summer, some of us feel that we haven’t had long enough; and yet taking annual holidays is a relatively recent development.

When most people were involved in agricultural work, they benefited from the annual cycle that gave seasonal breaks from work.

But after the Industrial Revolution, Sundays (the sabbath), and certain religious holidays were the only respite offered to the majority of ordinary workers.

That was very much part of a Biblical tradition.

If we go back, we find that the modern idea of one day’s rest per week comes from the Jewish tradition: one of the 10 commandments is a specific injunction to ‘Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy; six days shall you labour but the seventh is a sabbath unto the Lord thy God... you shall not do any work...’ There is nothing particularly logical about dividing up the days of a year as we do: the seven-day week is found nowhere in the natural world.

Yet, today, four thousand years after it was introduced, the concept of a seven-day week is universal.

However, there is nothing in the Bible about taking extended periods of time off from work.

And certainly nothing that indicates that having a holiday is beneficial. That’s a relatively modern concept.

For my grandparents it would have been unthinkable.

As immigrants in the early part of the 20th century they were too busy trying to make a living to take time off.

In their later years they may have gone to the beach for a day or visited their children and grandchildren, but that was about as far as they got.

Although a few bank holidays were introduced in 1871, it wasn’t until 1938 that there was legislation in the UK that gave, specifically, workers who were on fixed pay one week’s holiday per year.

So the right to any paid holiday is less than 80 years old.

And it was only 60 years later, in 1998, that the Government implemented the European Working Time directive of 1993, giving the majority of people in Britain the right to four weeks’ annual leave.

Before that, it was up to individual employers and employees to negotiate holiday entitlement.

It took a long time to get to where we are today.

And what holidays we take nowadays. I am continually amazed at the huge variety of what is on offer.

The choices are almost impossible, requiring planning and care that is often way beyond just having time off from work.

And of course that’s part of the attraction – the challenge of finding what’s right for you can take a lifetime of holidays to get right.

It makes me wonder what is essential. Of course, everyone has their own ideas of what makes a good holiday. So forgive me if I finish on a personal note.

For me it’s beaches and mountains in good weather, with a small amount of city culture thrown in if possible.

The beach to relax in the sun and play in the water.

You don’t get much chance to play for the sake of playing, as children do, when you’re my age.

The mountains to make me look up and to please my eyes, to challenge me physically and give me the opportunity to reflect on the beauty around me.

And the city to make me think – about what humanity has achieved and could do better, and the differences and commonality between peoples.

What is it for you?