Sunday, November 01, 2015

Happy Holy Day

Today is All Saints Day.  In the Catholic Church, it's a twofer this year: a holy day of obligation, which means practicing Catholics must attend Mass, but also Sunday, so they have to attend Mass anyway.

"Holy days of obligation" have changed since my childhood indoctrination.  Now the holy days change from year to year.  They're also different by country and state and even diocese.  In the US three of the traditional holy days (including All Saints) cedes its obligation if it falls on a Saturday or Monday. But this year (and next) the usual six are all obligations.

What "obligation" means has also changed.  Today's doctrine states that missing Mass on such a day might be a venial or a mortal sin (apparently if it's part of a pattern.)  My childhood catechism is unequivocal: it's a moral sin.  Assuming it's intentional and not subject to the many mitigating circumstances we used to discuss and invent in religion class, if you die in that state, you go directly to Hell.  So if you're wondering, there are no bonus points for non-Sunday holy days, but having one on a Sunday means just one day a year less on which you could invite eternal damnation.

Next up in the holy day of obligation calendar is the Immaculate Conception (December 8), Christmas (Dec. 25), then January 1, which used to be called The Circumcision (not the most appealing subject for meditation), now called Solemnity of Mary.  Which actually changes the balance, so that the Virgin Mary now has three holy days of obligation (including Immaculate Conception, Assumption on August 15.)  Jesus Christ is the subject of two now, and the other two Members of the Trinity still get zilch.  November 1 is the only one reserved for human beings.

Halloween derives from All Hallows Eve, the vigil of All Saints Day, or All Hallows Day.  November 2 is All Souls Day, which includes the dead who aren't saints, and is traditionally a day of remembrance for family members.  These three days are linked by their focus on the departed.  (Saints must be long dead before becoming official saints.)

Halloween absorbed its current traditions by being superimposed on "pagan" days of observance, as so many Christian holy days are.  The traditions in part derive from rituals to propitiate with food and gifts the dead who return on this one day of the year.

 In part what we now call Halloween is a day that marks the beginning of winter with rituals.  Our ritual this year--since it fell on a Saturday-- is the switch from the summer's Daylight Saving Time to the gloomier Standard Time, when six pm arrives in darkness.

Halloween is a big deal around here.  The stores begin promoting it in late September, but I've noticed that some homes have Halloween decorations up for the entire month of October, which is longer than some display their Christmas gear. The costume aspect is very big.  I passed the university library on Friday and saw through a window a huge rabbit at its desktop computer.  Margaret was in Arcata during the day on Saturday, and reports that Wonder Woman was a very popular look, princesses for little girls, and one man who appeared to be wearing a garbage can, with a large puppet down his back who seemed to be carrying the can he was in.

This business of holy days is the etymological origin of "holiday."  Holy days--especially those superimposed on older celebrations--were once days of festivals. And so the general idea of holiday.  Even in today's Catholic Church, a holy day of obligation also carries with it the obligation to refrain from work.

Looking up this etymology I learned something interesting.  The greeting "Happy Holidays" originated in England, but it referred to the summer holidays from school.  In America, Happy Holidays was first applied to the Christmas/New Years etc. period in a 1937 ad for Camel cigarettes.  Talk about your ancient "pagan" traditions.

  These ads used all the greetings--Merry Christmas, Seasons Greetings and happy holidays in an effort to make cigarettes a frequent Christmas gift.  Which it turned out to be.  I recall people giving and receiving cartons of cigarettes in the 50s and afterwards, along with the occasional box of cigars or tin of pipe tobacco (though not always Prince Albert, "the national joy smoke" in this ad. That's a different kind of smoke these days.)  In any case, Happy Holidays and "the holiday season" has been associated with the Christmas/New Years and everything in between or close enough season ever since.

Happy Holydays!

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