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Story: Weekends

In the 1950s immigrants to New Zealand were warned that during weekends everything shut and no entertainments were available as Kiwis went about family and church activities. In the 2000s shops and cafés are open and towns are bustling in the weekends. However, many still try to keep their Sundays as a day of rest.

Story by Peter Clayworth
Main image: Mowing the lawn, 1970

Story Summary

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Origins of the weekend

The term ‘weekend’ was not widely used until the late 19th century. The concept of having a break from work at the end of the week had its origins in the sabbath – a day of rest and worship. Most Christian denominations have a Sunday sabbath. European missionaries and settlers brought the Sunday sabbath to New Zealand. Some churches were very strict about what people could do on the sabbath and didn’t allow any kind of recreation, and certainly not any work.

In the 19th century shops were shut on Sundays. Sunday was a day to rest and spend time with family, even for the people who didn’t attend church. By the early 20th century leisure activities such as attending concerts and films had become more common.

Working and playing on Saturdays

In the mid-19th century most people worked a six-day week, though in the following decades more and more workers only had to work half of Saturday. Saturday was pay day, and so it became a major shopping night. Families went shopping together and shops were open until after 11 p.m.

A growing number of people wanted ‘early closing’ for shops, and there was some concern about the long hours shop assistants worked. In 1894 a law was passed so that most shops had to shut from 1 p.m. for one working day a week, although that was not always Saturday. From 1917 pubs closed at 6 p.m., but Saturday night was a big entertainment night, with people going to the movies, concerts, or boxing or wrestling matches.

The great Kiwi weekend, 1936–1980

Law changes in 1936 meant most people worked only 40 hours a week, and had weekends off.

From 1945 most shops had a late night on Friday and were shut all day on Saturday and Sunday. It seemed to overseas visitors that the whole country closed down for the weekend. New Zealanders filled their weekends with sporting, home-maintenance, social, family and church activities.

The modern weekend, 1980 to the 2000s

From 1980 shops were again allowed to open on Saturdays, and from 1989 they were able to open on Sundays as well. This changed they way New Zealanders spent their weekends, but sports, time with family are still a feature of weekends for many. Saturday shopping and long leisurely brunches became family activities.

How to cite this page:

Peter Clayworth, 'Weekends', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 March 2018)

Story by Peter Clayworth, published 5 Sep 2013