In Memorial to Deceased Religious Holidays
To the Fallen
Have you ever wondered that the meaning of a holiday is or was? I did years back on a St. Patrick's day when I was pinched, unjustly because I was wearing green, by a student. I look up the answer and was found some great information. I then ask my students what they knew about the day and the response was almost uniformly, "About Ireland, I think."
Here are 5 holidays that have evolved from their origins into something that may not have been intended when they first were celebrated. See if you spot any of the shadows of the past in the information you see here.
Saint Valentine's Day
Date: February 14th
Origins: There are two possible origins for Valentine's Day. The first and more likely of the two is that Valentine was a priest who lived during the 3rd century in Rome. Apparently Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families; therefore, like any good tyrant, he outlawed marriage for young men, so that he could "protect" his crop of possible soldiers. Realizing the injustice of the decree, Valentine defied Claudius and continued to marry young lovers in secret. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Legend has it that he was tied to a pole and shot to death by archers. Hence the reason one of the symbols of Saint Valentine's Day is a heart with an arrow through it.
The second possible origin is that of a man who was later made a Saint for helping Christians escape harsh prisons where they were often tortured to death. He was martyred eventually. One version of the legend indicates that he was the first to send a "Valentine". While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl who visited him during his imprisonment. Before his death, it is said that he wrote her a letter that he signed "From your Valentine," which is still in use today.
The specifics of Saint Valentine is not clear; however, what is evident is that Saint Valentine's Day has changed a lot.
Summary of Purpose: To honor a man who stuck by his convictions and either helped lovers to be together legally and morally, or saved many people from inhuman and gruesome deaths.
What it has Become: A sickly sugary pink holiday that focuses on "love," "romance" and in my humble opinion, sex. Millions of flowers, especially roses, fall victim to this holiday. Candy is sold by the ton (enough to make a quarter of the world diabetic) while a forrest of trees is made into cards that are promptly discarded the next week. Those who don't have a loved on are made very aware of how single they are (which is why I call it Single Awareness Day).
Saint Patrick's Day
Date: March 17th
Origins: Saint Patrick's story is surrounded by legend and myth. He was attributed as the man who brought Christianity to Ireland and cast all poisonous snakes from the island, both apocryphal. The truth of the matter is still very unique. It is believed that Saint Patrick died on March 17th around 460 AD. He was born to wealthy parents in Britain and his father was thought to be a Christian deacon. At the age of about 16 Patrick was captured by Irish raiders who had attacking his family's estate. The raiders took him back to Ireland as a prisoner where he spent six years. Because he was alone and afraid he turned to his faith for comfort and solace. After six years, while watching sheep, Patrick says he heard a voice saying it was time for him to go back to Britain. It is believed that he walked over 200 miles to the Irish coast from where he was being help.
After escaping home to Britain, Patrick says he had a second revelation of an angel in a dream instructing him to return to Ireland as a missionary. Soon after, Patrick began religious training, which lasted more than fifteen years. After his ordination, he was sent to Ireland with two missions: 1) minister to Christians already living in Ireland and 2) begin to convert the rest of the Irish. This of course dispels the myth behind Saint Patrick bringing Christianity to the island.
What can be attributed Saint Patrick is the creation of the Gaelic or Celtic Cross and the use of the Shamrock (the 3 leaf clover) to the use as a Christian symbol in Ireland. Because Patrick was familiar with the Irish language and culture, chose to incorporate traditional rituals and beliefs into his lessons of Christianity instead of attempting to destroy native beliefs. Because most Irish practiced a nature-based pagan religion, Saint Patrick superimposed a sun, a powerful symbol to the natives, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross, making the veneration of the symbol would seem more natural to the Irish people. He also used the Shamrock to explain the Catholic beliefs of the Holy Trinity. He also incorporated the bonfire into the observance of Easter since the Irish used them as a symbol respect for their gods.
A fun side note, the traditional color of Saint Patrick's Day is blue, not green.
Summary of Purpose: To honor a man who brought civilization and Christianity to Ireland.
What it has Become: An excuse to get drunk and eat corn beef and cabbage. The day is about Ireland, which is fine I suppose... But...
Date: This one is fun! When the Roman emperor, Constantine 1st called
the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, one of the things the council
decided was the date of Easter (or the lack there of). This council
unanimously voted that the Easter should be
celebrated throughout the Christian world on the first Sunday after the
full moon following the vernal equinox; and that if the full moon
should occur on a Sunday and thereby coincide with the Passover
festival, Easter should be commemorated on the Sunday following.
Coincidence of the feasts of Easter and Passover was avoided so as not
to confuse the feast days. (Note: Jewish Christian originally
celebrated Easter on the Eve of Passover while Western Christian
insisted on celebrating the day on Sunday. Thus making the date
Origins: The center of Christianity, no matter what denomination, is Jesus Christ (also referred to as Jesus the Christ). This holiday's origin is most often misunderstood because people sometime think it is the calibration of his death. The fact of the matter is that it is a celebration of his life, but there is much more to this. Atonement is a key word in both Jewish and Christian faiths. To atone is to pay for, make good or reconcile, in this case with God. The saying, "To err is human" is true, but error or imperfection is not good in the sight of God. So what made Christ so important was that he willingly lead a perfect life and then starting in the Garden of Gethsemane, continuing on the Cross and culminating in his resurrection three days after his death his what is know as the Atonement. In this willing sacrifice was sin (error) and death broken so that one day all may rise again and stand before God. Forgiveness, for the first time was open espoused as a means of making society better, but not blind forgiveness. The concept that trying to be a better person can redeem an individual began to replace harsher beliefs. Be you Christian or of another faith, remember, despite abuses by politicians and nations, Christ has changed the world forever. I personally believe him to be the Son of God and that through him I am saved.
The reason for the incorporation of
the rabbit and eggs into the holiday are simple. The holiday is about
renewal. The spreading Christian faith needed to adopt aspects of other
faiths to make their faith more attractive (remember the origins of the
Celtic Cross?). Since spring is a time of new life, renewal and to put
it bluntly, sex, the rabbit was an obvious choice for fertility and
renewal since the produce so quickly. The egg is also a symbol of
renewal and life. So there you have it. The Christian holiday is
combined with futility cult concepts and then channeled into better
analogies. Like it or not, these symbols are a part of the holiday now.
Summary of Purpose: To remind of the Sacrifice Christ made and to help renew faith while celebrating and honoring the Savior of Mankind.
What it has Become: Peeps, chocolate, egg hunts, paisley colors, Easter Bunny, spoiled children and a great toe hold for type 2 Diabetes! You gotta love that sugar!
All Hallow's Eve or Halloween
Date: October 31st (All Hallow's Day November the 1st)
Origins: Originally a Celtic Holiday to celebrate the end of Harvest
and the memorial of the past dead, the Holiday was heavily influenced
later by the coming of Christianity. The day was later declared as All
Saint's Day by Pope Boniface IV. The day was meant to commemorate and
honor saints and martyrs. Later the Catholic church made All Souls' Day
(Nov 2nd) as a day to remember the dead. The whole thing, October 31th
though November 2nd was know as Hallowmas. Halloween is the shortened
version of this holiday.
Summary of Purpose: Remember the dead and honor those who have sacrificed to further thier faith and civilization.
What it has Become: A darker extension of Easter. This sugar soaked dietitian's nightmare is somehow been turned into either a celebration of spoiling children by allowing them to think they are entitled to candy, or celebrating evil with stupid and predictable horror flicks and fright fests. Don't get me wrong, I find some of this fun, but it is tiresome at times.
Date: December 25th
Origins: Christmas. Christ's Mass. The calibration of the
birth of Jesus Christ. Scholars
actually believe that Christ's birth happened around Easter time. The
reason for the calibration on December the 25th is because of several
pagan religious holidays that celebrated sun gods and the "invocation
of" those gods to being back the sun so spring will come soon. Early
Christian writers likened the coming of the sun to the coming of
Christ. Thus, these winter solstices were combined with Christmas
making it easier for Christianity to spread.
Summary of Purpose: Remember the birth of Jesus Christ.
What it has Become: Part four and the finishing touches on spoiling children and creating a fatter, unhealthy world. Spoiled children demanding too expensive gifts they will break and/or forget within a few months. Too much money spent, the lack of thrift or conservation. The good news is that the holiday is still associated with family, giving and helping others and making the world a better place.
Whispers and Shadows
Some of these holidays have managed to keep their ghosts about to remind us of their origins and purposes. Christmas is, by far, the strongest of these with Easter a very distant second. The others have morphed and changed in incredibly interesting and unusual ways.
I used to think these changes were bad. Some of them are, of course. The ones that push entitlement and spoiled behaviors. But those are less bad because of what they have become than what we have made them. There used to be a time when I was angry, enraged even at what had happened to many. It is only now, years later that I have realized that they, like humanity, change over time. Not all change is good, but neither is all change bad either. Perhaps the key is to embrace the good and reject the bad. And for myself, the good rises when I see people gather together in positive fashion. When unity is created and discord is removed. So when next these holidays cross your life, perhaps ask yourself what value they hold in bringing you closer to those around you. You might be surprised what wonderful things you can do when you think about how to connect with others.
© 2009 Brian Middleton