Light ReliefThere are few instances when you can point to mainstream religions and say that they do something with absolute perfection. Off the top of my head I’d say that nobody beats them in terms of stained-glass windows, weather vanes, and organised tombola. They also are eminently well prepared when it comes to calendars and the way they organise their religious festivals. They can drop a thumb on any date in their diaries and declare with absolute authority that it’s St Buttermint’s Day, marking the start of the Festival of Perpetual Scratching, which ends on the 11th June with the Hangover of St. Bernard the Intemperate. It really is that clever.

Yet what’s really notable is how they don’t simply mark the important days as much as they set a schedule around each celebration. They don’t just know when something begins and ends but, more importantly, also when it starts to begin and when it ceases to end.

A quick Google for the Church of England’s calendar for 2016 tells me that Easter Sunday will this year fall on 27th March. It is preceded by the fasting of Lent, marked by Ash Wednesday, which is on 10th February. We also know that the week before Easter Sunday is called ‘Easter Week’ and Easter itself lasts until Pentecost, which we also call Whit Sunday on 15th May.

I expect you don’t find that too interesting but my point is that religious calendars don’t deal in absolutes. They make a virtue of anticipation and delay, both of which are as important as the actual days of celebration, not least because they give the faithful an idea of when they should start toasting their hot cross buns. For the rest of us thinking to buy Easter eggs, we need start shopping around 21st March which is a really important date for your diaries. It’s the day that proves that Easter doesn’t begin on the 1st January, a fact which would be obvious if it weren’t for all the shops that choose that day to start stocking chocolate rabbits.

I pick on chocolate rabbits because I’m particularly averse to their cute leporidic terror but I could choose any one of the old festivals we mark with overpriced blobs of novelty vegetable fat. The patterns of our lives are increasingly dictated by automated inventory systems that have no soul. They know no humanity too as they switch from one seasonal stock to the next. It leaves us facing a year-long fight with common sense that keeps telling us that Yoko Ono screeching ‘Merry Christmas’ does not belong in the middle of August, even if the shops have just replaced their remaining stock of paddling pools with plastic Perry Comos on sleds.

You can go through the entire year and recognise the same miserable pattern. Christmas cards make way for Valentines Cards, which are immediately replaced by Mother’s Day cards followed by Father’s Day cards. Gardening supplies are abundant during the spring months but try to find a pair of gloves when you’re brushing a fall of leaves in August and you discover the gardening section in your local supermarket has been replaced by pumpkin lanterns and severed limbs. The moment Halloween is done, the shops start flogging cheap Chinese fireworks the size of North Korean nukes. Then it’s Christmas and no sooner do you unplug your ears from a month of endless torture by Slade than the whole marketing cycle begins again.

You needn’t be a whiskery old Trot to find the tick-tock of marketing merciless. Nor do you have to be particularly religious to think it wrong. Myself, I am a clean-shaven atheist who enjoys high-tech consumer goods yet my atheism doesn’t preclude an appreciation of human myths, religions and stories. Our need to make certain days special seems integral to our psychology, which remains one of the great puzzles of science.

Stories prove how much we are analogue creatures to whom the pacing of life is important to our mental health. Our myths do not read: ‘And so Jason set out to hunt for the Golden Fleece and, lo, there it was!’ Narrative is about building and releasing tension, with long gradual transitions as we move from one place to the next. Romantic novels don’t introduce the heroine to the hero in one sentence and have them consummate their lust in the next (though I’m told Fifty Shades of Grey is the one exception). Tolkien did not pen the memorable opening: ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit who found a magic ring which his nephew lost down a volcano when he had his finger bitten off’.

All stories, myths and religions have key moments but also their equally important lulls when nothing much seems to happen. So too are there natural lulls in our lives and our calendars. They are lulls that are increasingly ignored by the mechanised time of computerised systems that switch from one mode of festive hyperbole to the next. Even if our culture is becoming increasingly secular, there’s surely no reason why we cannot mark the proper divisions between our traditional holidays. We all need time away from the marketing and the message. Holidays are part of the deep patterns of our lives but they are only significant it we’re also allowed some time to stop fretting over elf slippers, Valentine knickers, or chocolate rabbits in the middle of January.

David Waywell writes and cartoons at his blog The Spine.

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8 Comments on "The Curse of January’s Rabbit"

  1. You missed out the most revered holy day in the calendar of the church of the latter day bargainista, aka Black Friday. Just the latest attempt at money extraction. It probably won’t be long before we start celebrating Thanksgiving itself. After all if they can get away with introducing school proms I doubt there is any depth we won’t sink too. I’m still waiting for them to institute a bank holiday for Trafalgar Day so I can shift the gross of eyepatches and tricorn hats I’m sitting on ;-).

    • Didn’t miss it, Rob, but did have chop it out because that bit turned into a 500 word rant that could have gone on for another 1000 words. Black Friday is one of my current pet hates…

      We’re definitely missing a corporate bank holiday between Father’s Day and Halloween. I find it astonishing that Amazon haven’t managed to create a mid-Summer sale around July so they could sell us all manner of tat and make us feel obliged to buy more bloody stupid Hallmark cards. Saw Easter cards this year, which also got my goat. Easter cards! When I was a kid, I don’t even think there was such a thing as Father’s Day or, at least, not in the UK.

  2. I suspect that most of these religious holidays and the gift giving that comes with them were originally just an excuse for the church folk to have a good old knees-up, but over the years it got serious. Here in Germany there are a scattering of religious holidays and when one arrives NOBODY works, whole states shut down for things like Corpus Christi and Assumption of Mary. Fine for the Christians but the rest of us have work to do.

    In Eastern Europe they have things called ‘name days’ which I think are based on the Saints (but I’m not sure here). So, my birthday is on May 11th but before that I have a name day on April 29th complete with presents and cake. Two bites at the cherry!

    If there is going to be a new national holiday I want it to be Towel Day on May 25th. Have fun looking that one up.

    • Great idea, Peter. Towel Day is one I can get behind. If you’re going to celebrate something fictional make it really fictional!

      Odd that German’s have so much time off. We’re told in the UK we get too many holidays compared with the rest of Europe.

  3. In Turkey they seemed to have an endless procession of days just commemerating the formation of the republic, Ataturk Day, Victory Day, Republic Day, Independence Day, Sovereignty Day come to mind but I’m sure there were more, most of them seemed to fall on the weekend which was a bit of a gip. You could probably make flag selling a full time occupation over there. Towel Day was a new one on me but no dafter than some of the current ones really.

  4. Just for your info. Swedish Calendars have a saints name for every day of the year. When your name comes up you can celebrate that day with a nice Schnapps and beer chaser! My birthday happens to be 13th Knut…a very special day as it happens as it is the day to throw the Christmas tree out, and take decorations down and put them in the attic.

    I am unfortunate because there isn’t a day with my name on it.

    As to Easter and when it should be, although I have had a strict Catholic upbringing…I do not think they observed Easter in Jerusalem, or ate chocolate eggs / bunnies…therefore it seems to me that we shouldn’t be worrying about all these various holidays.

    Why do we not have a winter sports week in March like the Swedes? Also if we are part of the EU why do we not all have holidays at the same time, and why do we not have the same time…Brussels is missing a trick here, they dictate everything else.

    • Ah, that’s great thing to know, Lesley. Thank you! Just looked it up (LINK) and my day is ‘Teofil’ which sounds almost elfish. 23rd of June wouldn’t be too good: Adolf.

      As for Winter Sports day: March seems a bit late. How about today? Just got in and the snow is already about two inches deep.

      The rational part of my mind thinks we should just space holidays evenly through the year but I actually quite like the traditional dates and all the randomness associated with them. Just wish the shops wouldn’t be so mechanical about everything. A couple more holidays in June and July would be about perfect.

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