Thursday, April 23, 2009

Holy Days

If you had to put your money on the most popular holiday it would have to be Christmas. This is the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus with presents and “good will” towards all people. This holiday is celebrated worldwide now, even though most of the world doesn’t believe in Jesus they still think giving and getting presents is a good idea. The second most popular holiday is Thanksgiving. This is an American holiday, which Canada also picked up and is making its way around the world as a day of giving thanks to – who or what? Most of the world will give thanks to one god or another. After that I don’t know what is most popular. Maybe Halloween or New Years Day or even Valentine’s Day; Easter is up there too as a time of bunnies, baskets, and bonnets.

It was not like this 1000 years ago. Back then, without question, the most popular and significant Holy Day, or holiday, was Easter. Easter was at least a week long and the only week off peasants had through the whole year. Cathedrals and churches alike were filled each of the days as they relived the Passion Week of Christ. From this developed the “Stations of the Cross” and the pilgrimages, and even the Crusades. It was drama at its highest with actors actually whipped and wearing a crown of thorns, bleeding themselves into a holy ecstasy in their devotion. The week was culminated on Easter Sunday with entire communities emptied of flowers so the church could be overflowing with the smell and look of resurrected life.

Interestingly enough Easter actually was named after a pagan goddess. It was an Old English word for a month on the Germanic Calendar (Eostur monath) which was the equivalent of our April. Some believe the goddess Eostre was connected with some folk customs with rabbits and eggs. Most believe that is a modern day Halmark addition. Previous to Easter (899AD) it was called Pascha (Latin for Passover) and celebrated as an alternative to the Jewish Passover.

The second highest Holy Day for 1st millennium Christians was Ascension Day. 40 days after the Resurrection Christ ascended into heaven “to sit at the right hand of God the Father.” The third was the Harvest Festival which would be the equivalent of our Thanksgiving but occurred closer to Halloween in the calendar. Finally, the fourth celebration was Christmas, not such a big thing back in 1000AD.

As with a LOT of things: the date is not important. What is important is what the celebration means. So this particular Sunday is not the actual Sunday when Jesus rose from the grave – so what? It is important that we celebrate his resurrection and what that means for us. Easter has been filled with bunnies, chocolate, and colored eggs – so what? As long as it doesn’t detract from what we are truly celebrating and what it should mean to us. So let’s celebrate, let’s party, and God will smile.

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