Siesta in Spain: What is it? How does tradition work?
Imagine a world where stopping work in the middle of the day to take a really nice nap is the default! I know this sounds very strange and utopian, but it is the reality of many Spaniards. And if you have no idea what we’re talking about, it’s because you should never have heard about siesta. As Paulo and I were recently in Spain, we were wondering where this tradition of the Spanish afternoon sleep comes from. Let’s find out together?
Photo: Jonas Hoss
How did it come about?
First of all, where did the siesta come from? Why, at some point, did you think it would be interesting to stop in the middle of the afternoon to rest? Well, let’s go. First of all, we need to understand that the Spanish summer is extremely hot. We are talking about 40ºC with open skies, strong sun and dry weather. And it was in these conditions that peasants worked in the mid-twentieth century, exposed to constant heat. In order to avoid spending so many hours in that hot weather, workers started to take breaks during the hours when the sun was strongest, which used to be right after lunch. It makes perfect sense, right? However, the most curious thing is that this tradition continues to exist, despite losing strength each year. Despite that, in Ador, close to Valencia, there is even a law guaranteeing citizens’ right to make a small 3 hour break.
Why the name siesta?
It is not news to anyone that many of the words we use today are derived from the Latin, and siesta is just one of them! Many years ago, the Romans used to rest at the sixth hour of the day, dividing the time into 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness. Think with me now: if we start working around 8 in the morning, the sixth hour of the day would be at 2 in the afternoon. And it was around that time that they stopped to rest. In other words, basically, the sixth hour gave rise to the expression “siesta”. Doubts?
Is it still practiced?
Truth be told: we are constantly running out of time, always trying to do a thousand things at once. So it is even difficult to think how feasible it would be to stop working to take a nap. Really, the big companies and trade networks don’t stop. In these cases, capitalist needs end up speaking louder. Even why, imagine going to McDonald’s in the afternoon and finding the place behind closed doors? Even so, smaller shops and neighborhoods usually do at least an hour’s siesta. Those who take the tradition to the letter close the doors from 2 pm to 5 pm, then work until 9 pm, more or less. It is as if the work is divided into four hours worked in the morning and another four hours after the siesta. Despite these crazy hours, most tourist spots in the city work normally. No siesta for the employees who work on them!
In theory, siesta would be a rest time for workers. After all, after eating a lot for lunch, a nap is always welcome. But what happens is quite different from that. Because it is such a long pause, the Spaniards end up using that time to solve other things. Going to the gym, paying the bills, cooking lunch for the week, catching up on the series and spending time playing with the pet, for example, are some of the activities that can be done in three hours. Think about everything you would do with all that free time!
Now, an overview to understand the situation and compare the nap time with other countries. Taking into account a 2016 El País survey, 58.6% of Spaniards do not take a siesta! It is more than half of the population, with only 16.2% taking a siesta every day. Oh, and do you want to know another curious fact? The average number of Americans who take a nap in the afternoon is higher than that of the Spanish people. Okay, the difference is only 1% (34% against 33%), but it is still possible to say that the Spaniards sleep a little less – and continue to take the reputation of the nap! *** After all this information, what is your opinion about Siesta? Would it work here in Brazil?
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