Moveable Feasts

Yesterday was not St. Patrick's Day.

Except where it was.

Seems that, for the Church of England, Holy Week steamrolled right over St. Patrick's Day and they just skipped it altogether. The Church of Ireland celebrated the national patron state on Saturday, although state-sponsored celebrations went ahead on Monday. In at least some Catholic jurisdictions, St. Pat got thrown all the way back to Friday, since Jesus has dibs on the whole week from Palm Sunday to Easter and his step-dad, who would under normal circumstances be honored tomorrow, gets the closest available free day, leaving Patrick with March 14.

It's all very confusing.

If you care. Which most people don't.

It brought back to mind the curious relationship between churchly and secular observance of various holidays with roots in the Christian year but which have taken on significant non-religious lives of their own. I'm not even going to go into exhibit A, Christmas, because at least everyone agrees about when that is.

(At least, we agree about Christmas day. As for Christmas season, the liturgically-minded seem doomed to annual futile bleating about the non-identity of Advent and Christmas. Just when we're ready to get our twelve days on, the rest of the country is completely burned-out on two months of shopping mall carols. Alas.)

Exhibit B: the unilateral decision of IHOP (I didn't know they had jurisdiction) to move Mardi Gras for no better reason than a conflict with the super Tuesday primaries. (How are voting and eating pancakes mutually exclusive?) (Tip o' the hat: Sarah.) I've noticed that businesses and other organizations seem to feel free to schedule Mardi Gras-themed events at their convenience any time from late January through March, even if it lands them smack in the middle of Lent. Heck, I've even seen churches have Mardi Gras parties in Lent. Not exactly convenient for those who are observing any sort of traditional Lenten abstinence.

Perhaps the variability of the celebrations is due in part to the ever-changing date of Easter, and thus Ash Wednesday, and thus Fat Tuesday. When an event has no fixed date, it's easier to pick your own that bother to find out when it actually falls in any given year. That, and Lent follows so quickly on the heals of Christmas even in years when it's not as exceptionally early as it was this year that it sneaks up on many of us before we've had time to plan.

But woe be unto the church when it attempts to mess with an observance that usually does have a fixed date! The AP and USA Today describe dust-ups in several American cities between clergy calling for a sober observance of Holy Week and community organizers who wanted to stick to the traditional date for St. Pat's revelries. An "expert" explained the inevitability that festivities in Dublin would happen on March 17, come Easter or high water, by saying an attempt to shift the date in Ireland would "be like the (American) bishops arguing to move Super Bowl Sunday."

Except that no one ever claimed that Super Bowl Sunday was originally a Christian holy day.

The organizers of the Dublin festival, in their turn, defended the decision to stick to the date of the 17th in part because of the significant investment already undertaken in branding St. Patrick's Day as March 17.

Is St. Patrick's Day a religious feast honoring a missionary bishop, or a festival of Irish nationalism? Is Christmas about the nativity of the incarnate Son of God, or about a fat guy in a red suit, a pile of presents, and a huge dinner? Yes and yes.

In other news, I think I chose the worst possible day of the year to go shopping for green nail polish. I suspect that I got the last bottle thereof in the entire city of Oxnard.


Mike said...

...but you DID get the green nail polish, yes? Yay!

Charlie said...


I do enjoy reading your musings, partly because they are inherently interesting and a-musing. (I wonder if the word "amusing" has some of its origins in the act of "musing?")

Someday you will make a good faculty member. I say this because your extensive knowledge of trivia is characteristic of faculty members I have known over the years. Our lunch table conversations are very wide-ranging and esoteric because we each have extensive hoards of useless information.

Charlie in Phoenix

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