Brian Edwards Media

Easter Bannit

Easter bonnetIf I were a retailer, I’d be pretty hacked off that in the middle of a recession, with punters keeping their hands firmly in their pockets, I was about to lose two days earnings. And all because a couple of thousand years ago a Jewish preacher and revolutionary was executed in Judea and, according to his supporters, rose from the dead two days later.

Yes, it’s the annual Good Friday, Easter Sunday shutdown for shopkeepers who don’t want to be turned into criminals for making a living. Under the Shop Trading Act 2008, both days are designated ‘restricted trading days’. Unless a shop is specifically exempted, it’s an offence to open on these days, and law-breakers are liable to a $1,000 fine.

Sounds simple? Well it is, until you start looking at the exemptions. For example,  the owner of a dairy, service station, souvenir shop, duty free store, transport terminal bookstore, chemist shop, takeaway bar, restaurant, cinema, or video-store can stay open on both days.

According to the Labour Department, the rationale for this  is that enterprises dealing in ‘tangible goods’ – things you can buy, take home and keep – can’t stay open, while enterprises not dealing in tangible goods can.

So where does this leave the dairy, service station and transport terminal bookstore? In theory each of these enterprises should not, for example, be able to sell you a newspaper,  magazine or book – a significant disadvantage, one would have thought, for the transport terminal bookstore – since these items can clearly be taken home and kept; but should be able to sell you foodstuffs, which can certainly be taken home, but will not be kept as tangible goods.

But even this is arguable. A tin of Watties baked beans or a Magnum ice cream can be stored in the pantry or freezer for weeks, months and presumably years. Only once they have been eaten can it truly be said that they are no longer ‘tangible’. This is clearly a grey area in the legislation which requires urgent clarification.

You can argue, of course, and the Labour Department does argue,  that any enterprise which can be deemed to provide an ‘essential service’ should be exempt from the legislation. This would allow service stations to sell petrol and oil – people have to get from A to B –  but nothing else, other perhaps than foodstuffs, which we’ve already identified as a grey area.

Here a further complication arises. If the rationale for allowing foodstuffs to be sold is that their sale constitutes an essential service, then only essential foodstuffs should be available for purchase.

The Magnum ice cream, for example, could perhaps only be sold to someone who had just had their tonsils out. A doctor’s certificate would, of course, have to be produced. Even the purchase of staple foods, like bread and rice, would require proof from the prospective buyer, perhaps in the form of an affidavit or  Polaroid photograph, that he or she was completely out of bread or rice, and had no satisfactory substitute in his or her fridge or pantry.

Chemist shops would seem to come under the ‘essential service’ banner, providing they only filled prescriptions for or sold essential medicines. But this is another grey area. While insulin is clearly essential to a type-one diabetic, is Alka Seltzer essential to a person suffering from a self-inflicted hangover. I would have thought not. Here again, the prospective Alka Seltzer buyer should have to produce a doctor’s certificate, affirming that his aching head and upset stomach constituted a medical emergency. Again the legislation clearly requires urgent clarification.

Which brings us to the video-stores, cinemas, restaurants and takeaway bars. None of these enterprises could remotely be considered to constitute an ‘essential service’, though they do appear to be covered by the ‘tangible goods’ provision in the legislation. One does not normally ‘keep’ a rented video, a movie or a meal.

More difficult to understand are the exemptions  for souvenir shops, duty-free stores and transport terminal bookstores. None provide essential services and each could be said not merely to sell, but to specialise in ‘tangible goods’.

This brings us, I believe, to a core principle behind the legislation. The souvenir shop, duty-free store and transport terminal bookstore cater primarily for tourists. And tourists, so far as we Kiwis are concerned, can go to hell in a handcart – though they won’t be able to buy one on Good Friday or Easter Sunday. New Zealand citizens, on the other hand, are constrained to serve God and not Mammon on these days.

So somehow or other we have come to the position that stuffing your face with hamburgers, pizza or KFC, eating and drinking up large in a restaurant,  going to see No Country for Old Men (R16 Graphic Violence) at the flicks, or watching a rented porno, all constitute serving God, while buying plants or tools to tend your garden on Good Friday constitutes serving Mammon.  Though it’s no longer sinful on Easter Sunday.

Well, if I believed in Him at all, I would have thought that, of all of these activities, gardening would be the most pleasing to God.

But it’s all just absolute nonsense, isn’t it?

In the first place, religious belief  has no legitimate role to play in lawmaking. When and whether shops stay open must be solely a matter of industrial law and not of religious observance. Holy days and holidays must not be regarded as synonymous.

But if we are to have undemocratic and retrograde legislation, let it at least be consistent. Let’s not make absolute fools of ourselves by saying that it’s OK to make money renting videos, selling duty free watches and flogging pulp fiction at airports, but not OK to make money by selling someone a lemon tree or a spade to plant it with.

Either ban the lot and make us all wear sackcloth and ashes for two days, or give every trader and every potential customer the right to make up their own mind on what they’ll do at Easter. I’m for the latter. Let’s open the doors. Let’s breathe the fresh air of freedom. Let’s, for heaven’s sake, grow up!



  1. I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s foolish legislation that makes no sense: give everyone a day off, but then take away their personal freedom to buy or spend their day however they want – kind of defeats the purpose of a day off doesn’t it?

  2. Thanks a lot, Brian – NOT. Some of us wage slaves just live for that extra day off. No way do I want to give up my Free Friday, which comes just once a year. Buy your dahlias a day early!

    • That’s fine, Sarah, but some of your colleagues might like to make up their own minds on whether they can earn a buck over Easter and not be told by some bureaucrats that they can’t.

  3. Well done Brian, I thought Jesus was raised from the dead three days later, not two. You say that holy days and holidays must not be regarded as synonymous.

    Well, they are not. You can’t go to the supermarket on Friday and Sunday. But both Friday and Sunday are are not public holidays. Both, however are holy days. Monday isn’t a holy day. But it is a public Holiday and so you cant shop that day either.

    So to say that holidays and holy days are synonymous is rubbish, isn’t it.

    If Easter Sunday is NOT a public holiday,why can’t shops open?

    • Well Dave, if Jesus had been raised from the dead three days after Friday, he would have been raised on Monday. I don’t think that’s in scripture. As to Good Friday and Easter Sunday not being public holidays, you’re quite correct. In a way, that’s the point. I have no objection to any day being declared a public holiday – the more the merrier – but I do object to retail outlets being closed because of the fanciful religious beliefs of one social group.

  4. I have no objection to any day being declared a public holiday – the more the merrier – but I do object to retail outlets being closed because of the fanciful religious beliefs

    Does that mean that you think all all shops should be open on pubic holidays that commemorate religious beliefs. That means shops should be open on Easter but not on Anzac Day morning, I guess, and even that is a little inconsistent.

  5. I went for a drive today, Easter Sunday, and found the mixture of things you can/couldn’t buy quite confusing. Just about anything from a Service Station is fine, Wine and Food from Cafés no problem, even apples from the orchard or Dairy but nothing from a supermarket. Why does God have against supermarkets?

    As an atheist I don’t see anything special about this, or any other, religious holiday. I am quite happy for those who do to observe them to do so, just don’t drag me into your mythology.

    PS: Have you seen Pat Condell on Easter? He raises an interesting question regarding belief and persecution:

  6. Sarah, have you not heard of annual leave?

    Bring on real separation of Church and State! (or at very least, some logic to these laws.