A Word for Celebrating the End of Work

Feierabend • noun • (fiya-ahh-binnd)

Definition: evening celebration, the end of the work day, quitting time

Origin: German

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During college I played intramural soccer with a guy named Neal Feierabend. He was a pretty good player, and one of the first times I met him I asked him about his last name. Feierabend is not a common last name, so I wanted to know if there was a story behind his last name. 

This conversation happened a long time ago, so I do not remember exactly what he said, but his response was basically that it was a strange German word that means something like “fire party.” 

Over a decade later, I learned the true meaning of feierabend and its cultural importance in Germany, and eventually it became an integral part of my work regarding ethnocide and culture.

Feierabend has nothing to do with fire, but sometimes it can include a fire. In German, feier means “celebration” and abend means “evening”. So feierabend means “evening celebration,” and sometimes these evening celebrations can include a feuer, or fire, to illuminate the festivities.

However, feierabend is not important because Germans throw the best parties. These parties are not all night ragers, even though they could be from time to time. These evening celebrations are important because of the meaning that Germans have injected into them, and how they have structured their society to ensure that Germans have the opportunity to regularly have a feierabend.

Feierabend & Life-Work Balance

For hundreds of years, it had been the cultural norm for Germans to end their day with a feierabend. This evening celebration did not consist primarily of getting drunk, going to a club, and stumbling home at 2am. Instead it was merely a celebration of the end of the work day.

This celebration can take on countless forms. If you want to celebrate the end of the work day by reading your favorite book, then that is your feierabend. If you want to meet up with your friends at a biergarten, beer garden, then your feierabend is actually a feierabendbier. Going to the gym after work to destress and exercise could also be a feierabend, so long as you consider it an enjoyable experience and not a continuation of work drudgery.

Embracing the end of work, and labeling it as a celebration creates a cultural discourse that prioritizes life ahead of work. Work is not the celebration. The end of work and the opportunity to engage in an activity that celebrates existence is prioritized ahead of work. Life is the celebration.

During the 20th century, as more Germans started working longer and longer days, it became much harder for the average German to partake in a feierabend. When work hours become extended and begin to dominate too much of your life, Germans now have a clear linguistic and cultural line of demarcation. When you work so much that you cannot have a feierabend, you know that you are working too much.

Unsurprisingly, the preservation of the feierabend has been an integral component of the German labor movement. Germans are not against working hard, but they know the importance of the end of work so that they can engage in their passions and commune with their friends. Being able to articulate the importance of the end of work, also makes Germans less inclined to define themselves via their jobs because their jobs are not all-consuming.

However, celebrating the end of work does not mean that Germans are bad workers or lazy. In fact, the German stereotype of being efficient and industrious workers is heavily dependent on the feierabend because there is a greater desire to be productive and efficient at work so that it does not bleed into your feierabend. If you know you have a celebration to attend at the end of work, you now have a greater desire to finish all of your work, so that you don’t miss the celebration.

Feierabend & Culture

At SCL, we spend a lot of time thinking about and talking about culture, and a key aspect of a sustainable, nurturing culture is bringing people together in good faith. Ethnocide creates a cultural status quo built around sustained division and mauvaise foi, and this is one of the many reasons why ethnocide is so destructive and the opposite of a healthy culture.

Ethnocide’s diseased relationship with the world and humanity disincentivizes the cultivation of a feierabend, and instead will profess the importance of work ahead of life.

Ethnocide’s foundation of division means that an ethnocidal society disregards the importance of a shared commonality and existence. Within ethnocide, life and liberty are not things that all people are born with, but instead are privileges or “freedoms” that people can potentially obtain through work and wealth.

America’s interpretation of “freedom” was created by ethnocidal colonizers who denied freedom to people of color, so America’s application of freedom is not a universal freedom but instead a freedom built upon the denial of freedom to others. (We explored this concept in more depth in last week’s newsletter on the dizziness of freedom.)

Due to this divided, ethnocidal foundation, America prioritizes work ahead of life because freedom exists only once you gain access to a privileged American caste that has the power to deny freedom to others. 

Some Americans are born into this rarified, celebrated, dystopian caste due to family wealth, but the majority of Americans are told that they must obtain this status and power via hard work. 

America’s ethnocidal society has indoctrinated us with the belief that work is the celebration, and that the end of work could bring about the end of our opportunity to obtain freedom. If we stop working then another person could work harder than us, push us further down the American hierarchy, and take away our chance at “freedom.”

America’s ethnocidal culture and our lack of a shared community inclines us to not value a feierabend. Working late and missing an evening celebration is perfectly acceptable because in America constant work is considered the celebration.

This is a toxic culture that makes us unhappy, ill, anxious, and gripped with burnout due to overworking. The incessant work that capitalism demands is making so many people ill, and we will struggle to find balance and stability in our life if we do not cultivate language for celebrating life and the end of work.

In order to have a healthy culture, we must take the time to have a sustainable, nurturing evening celebration every day. We must celebrate life, and in doing so we will have the language and authority to know when we should stop working and start living.

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