All About Siesta

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It’s Monday. You’re at school, work, or doing something along those lines. You look at the clock- it’s noon. You’ve probably already been working for a couple of hours, but you still have plenty more time to put in. The Monday blues are really starting to hit. Oh, what you wouldn’t give for a nice nap right about now.

Now, imagine that you actually could have a designated time right around lunch to take a much-needed nap, as well as get the chance to spend time with some family and friends. Even further, everyone had this opportunity, regardless of where they worked or went to school.

It sounds like something straight out of a fantasy story about utopian societies and paradise, but it’s very real. This idea is embodied in the Spanish “siesta”, a two to three hour break that starts around 2:00pm, in which workers and students are allowed to return to their homes and relax, nap, or spend time with family. The siesta exists in many Spanish countries, and even in non-Spanish countries, but is perhaps most prominent in Spain.

In the summer of 2016, I was fortunate enough to participate in an immersion program located in Spain in the city of Segovia, which is just north of Madrid. When I arrived, I had no knowledge of the concept of this “siesta”, which led to some early confusion when I didn’t understand why all the stores shut down at 2:00, or why the once crowded streets were suddenly completely empty. After the break was finally explained to me, I felt even more confused.

In the United States, we have a very fast paced culture where everyone is constantly working, with barely any time to spend with others, and certainly not enough time to take a nap in the middle of the day. Thus, the notion of a midday break was certainly a bit strange to me yet entirely fascinating.

Immediately noticeable to me was how siesta was able to strengthen familial bonds. In the household I resided in, siesta was used as a time to get everyone gathered around the table for a hearty lunch. At the table, we would tell stories, make jokes, or praise the amazing meals the mother of the household would cook (This statement would seem to warrant the article being placed in the opinion section, but I assure you this is fact). And although my fellow American housemates and I weren’t biologically members of this Spanish family, we were part of the family.

A lot of the ability to place an emphasis on family comes from having this break where everyone can simultaneously stop and relax a little. It is quite different from the day-to-day culture in the United States, where seemingly everyone has a different schedule, which can make it much more difficult to find time to spend together.

And for those who choose to use siesta as a chance to nap, there are plenty of benefits, especially in terms of health and general well being.

But, as we move further into the 21st century, some are proposing the end of siesta. Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s Prime Minister, has made an effort to shorten the Spanish working day by two hours to 6:00 p.m., which would in effect cut siesta out entirely.

While this may seem like a poor decision on the surface, there are many valid reasons as to why many Spaniards would rather not have siesta as part of the working schedule.

One of the biggest benefits of siesta is how it helps Spaniards catch up on sleep. While the average Spanish citizen ends up working more hours than their European counterparts, they end up going to bed later and sleeping less than other European nations. While shortening the work day would rid of siesta, it could allow for the Spanish to develop better sleeping habits, decreasing the necessity of a midday nap.

It will be interesting to watch as siesta evolves overtime- will it cease to exist, or will it take a new form and flourish?

Another interesting idea to ponder is would siesta work in the United States? While the culture of the U.S. and siesta may seem incompatible, it is certainly an intriguing proposition, and one that allows us to take a step back and examine our own culture.

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About the author

Colin Capenito is a 17 year old from Worcester, MA and is a member of the St. Mark’s School Class of 2019. He sees St. Mark’s as a great doorway to many new opportunities. He has been interested in filmmaking and writing ever since he was very young, and is constantly looking for ways to improve his skills in both areas. He plans to get a degree in filmmaking, and hopes to one day be able to move to Hollywood and accomplish his dream of making movies. Some of his other interests include computer science, robotics, baseball, and travelling. He is always looking for new challenges that will shape his future.

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