A time of leisure


A holiday for every class

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Leisure time is a new phenomenon. People have always taken a break from their work, but the concept of leisure time doesn't appear in history until the latter half of the 18th century. In Denmark, leisure time was long the privilege of the nobility and the middle classes. Nobles used their free time hunting, while the middle classes read, visited salons and attended the theatre. Denmark was no different from the rest of Europe in this respect. But, Danes had one thing many other European elites didn't have – a long coastline. So, when visiting the coast became all the rage in Europe around 1800, Danish aristocrats were quick to catch on.
Early on, bathing and summer recreation were activities mostly popular with wealthy Copenhageners. Well-to-do urbanites headed north during the summer months. It was called going to the country", but it was the coasts they were in search of. The annual migration led to summer residences being built along the beaches of the Sound and the Kattegat. Later, other areas such as the islands of Föhr and Fanø in the Wadden Sea, and Bornholm in the Baltic were discovered – as was Søndervig on the North Sea coast of Jutland. Søndervig had only one summer residence to start with, but in 1884 local carpenters built a beach hotel. If there were no vacancies at the hotel, there was always a room at a boarding house – which was where composer Carl Nielsen stayed – or people could rent a room with one of the local residents. Leisure time also meant cultural exchanges.

Sport and peepshow theatre for the masses
During the early 20th century, leisure time also became the domain of the working classes. White collar workers were given the weekend off, but could rarely afford a summer residence or a beach holiday. For them, leisure time meant enjoying some of the new forms of entertainment, such as revues, variety shows, and "peepshow theatre". Sport, particularly British-inspired games, were also popular. Cycling and cricket were the first big hits. But after the turn of the century they were followed by football, athletics and badminton. Later, team handball, whose rules were codified by a Dane, joined the list. Initially, sport was an urban phenomenon, but during the interwar period, rural areas began to take up sports. There has never been much time for pastimes in agrarian societies. The closest they came were pauses in the day's work, or in Denmark seasonal lulls in activity when the children of farm owners could attend a folk high school and the brightest of the smallholders' children could attend evening courses. But with mechanisation came spare time, and ball games didn't require major investments. At most, a farmer needed to be paid for use of his fields, or the village hall to use for gymnastics, badminton ... and dances.

Leisure for all
The introduction of the eight-hour workday in 1919 meant that blue collar workers were also given free time. Suddenly, the number of library books being borrowed skyrocketed. Labourers thirsted after reading material and learning, and libraries exposed them to new worlds of fiction, travel and scientific books. For those who weren't into books, there was always sport or the allotment garden. On the outskirts of industrial towns, patches of allotment gardens were being established. More than just a source of fresh air for workers, allotments also provided a source of fresh fruit and vegetables for families on tight budgets.

Although the Holiday Act of 1938 gave the working classes the legal right to time off from work, conservative as well as Social Democratic legislators feared people would squander their holidays. The labour movement promoted the great outdoors by creating ramblers' associations and encouraging camping. The cooperatively owned Dansk Folkeferie organised holidays that provided people with time to rest as well as gave them new impressions. Leisure time was a right, and it could be spent on trips abroad or farm stays organised by urban labour unions. Similar home stays were organised for rural residents wishing to visit towns. Town and country residents were to swap places as part of a national popular fellowship. Some of Dansk Folkeferie's campgrounds were placed on the coasts, meaning that now even labourers could enjoy beach holidays.
During the post-war period, many working-class families began being able to afford summer homes. Characteristic for the post-war era was the rise of the youth culture. Cinemas had already established themselves during the interwar period as they spread out of the city and into market towns. The trend continued during World War II when the swing kids worried their parents with their loose form of dancing. The Glass Room in Tivoli was one of the most popular places in the country for swing dances during the war. It was in the 1950s, though, that free time came to mean something different for different generations. Children, young people (now called teens), adults and the elderly all did different things with their spare time. From the get-go, teenagers were the most attractive segment for the media as well as businesses.

The increasing democratisation of holidays and leisure time culminated in the package holiday. Today, some pack their free time with exercise, evening classes and continuing education, while others lounge around watching television. Our time off from work has become a place we can realise ourselves or establish different sides of ourselves – be that sportsman, collector or globetrotter.