When I was a child (many, many years ago) the only shops you saw open on a Sunday where a restricted number of purveyors of everyday goods, or goods serving the social needs of the Sunday.
Sunday was the day of family visits; therefore, the pasticcerie (the French say patisserie) were open as cakes and assorted sweets were typically bought for the occasion. Places called bar (an Italian institution not comparable to anything I have seen abroad) were also open. They had generally more than one licence, and many of them sold a variety of goods ranging from cigarettes to alcohol in bottle, to dairy product and alcohol on the premises (at the, well, bar). Some of them were also rosticcerie (French: rotisserie) and/or pasticcerie, but I honestly can't remember whether the rosticceria part of the business was allowed to open on a Sunday, I'd rather say not.
Then there was another institution always open on a Sunday morning: the newsagents, as it would have been utterly cruel to leave the Country without the latest news concerning the football games in the afternoon. The reading of the newspaper and discussion about the choices for the afternoon were the object of typically animated discussions among friends of all ages. It was, well, all very Italian; though at the time it was, to me, simply normal.
In the afternoon everything was closed and the entire nation resembled a place under curfew.
It was all very intelligently made. It made profound sense. It was highly efficient. It was, in a word, Catholic.
Catholics aren't Puritans. To them, Sunday is a day for worship and celebration, joy of life, innocent fun. Therefore, sports games were played on a Sunday. I remember my shock at hearing that in, say, England, football was played on a Saturday, because Sunday would not have been appropriate. France, Spain, all other Catholic Countries followed, if memory serves, the Italian (actually, Catholic) system to a man.
The rules about Sunday shop opening followed this intelligent Weltanschauung : you could buy a newspaper for yourself and Topolino (Walt Disney cartoons) for your children; you could buy pastarelle in the omnipresent pasticcerie for your family and in-laws, to be eaten at lunch after abundant roast or lasagne with all the enlarged family. You could grab some milk whilst you were there. Even the occasional bottle of Cognac would have been available in a pinch, though it was invariably more expensive than in the grocery store (which was, though, always closed). Restaurants were, in many cases, open, again mainly in order to cater to the needs of families. But as a rule, you could buy or use a lot of what you could need on a Sunday and nothing that you didn't.
Blessed times of common sense and sanity!
In those days, the idea of buying your groceries, or an ironing table, or a TV set on a Sunday would have been considered most certainly off, and very probably impious (we don't know, because the possibility wasn't there). Sunday was there for worship, family, and fun. The shop opening laws reflected this, and aimed at allowing the biggest possible number to enjoy their day whilst making essential services available, for a limited time, to everyone.
It made, again, sense. It was the proper way to organise a Catholic Country. In turn, it helped the Country to keep its Catholicism alive and kicking.
Poland is now about to phase in Sunday opening legislation, restricting the way and hours in which shops are open. When I read it, memories of sunny Sundays, newspapers after church, loud football discussions and visit to – or visits from – a half army of relatives – followed by big lunches and big discussions until the football took every male's attention – became very present for a moment.
It was a happier time. More serene, more balanced, more natural. More Christian, too.
It is good to see that, in the afternoon of my life, it is the former Communist Countries that now try to come back to those sunny morning, and to that more Christian life.