All Things Being

“Equal” and “night,” in their Latin forms, give us the word “equinox.”  Today we enter the darker half of the year.  Interestingly, of the so-called “quarter days”—the equinoxes and solstices—this is the only one for which we have no ancient indications of celebration.  Like a birthday that goes by unnoticed, this feels odd.  Why, among the set of only four days—longest, shortest, and two equal—did this one fail to be noticed?  Well, perhaps noticed, but not celebrated?  The failure of ancient records may be one explanation, and perhaps other, near dates of note subsumed it.  In Judaism, for instance, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur come around this time.  The ancient Celts celebrated August 1 and November 1, or thereabouts.  September is a particularly busy time.

Harvesting, in many places, gets its real start in September.  In more modern times, school starts up again.  Work schedules once more take priority and those “relaxed” summer hours are a thing of the past.  It’s easy to overlook this seemingly insignificant day.  It is important nonetheless.  For those of us who watch horror, it’s now more easily explained—it’s darker and that brings on one of the most primal of fears.  Halloween is coming, and if you haven’t prepared already, discounted pricing on picked-over merchandise will begin in coming days.  More and more houses will prepare for the haunted season.  Around here leaves are just beginning to change, but in more northern latitudes they’re well on their way already.  Pumpkins are already on hand at grocery stores and farm stands.  The days of summer sweet corn are over.

Not all holidays receive equal attention, of course.  Less romantically inclined adults simply work through Valentines Day.  And who even notices May Day anymore?  If you don’t spend money on holidays they don’t seem to count.  Who goes out and buys things for the forgotten autumnal equinox?  Nevertheless, many people say that fall is their favorite time of year.  It has a trickster element to it.  You awake and have to throw on some extra layers, but by mid-afternoon short sleeves may be sufficient.  Hurricanes may come ashore.  Some days will feel like winter, and others summer.  Transitions are like that.  The autumnal equinox signals the inevitability of winter but also the yearning and melancholy of the shortening days when color springs to light once again.  Forgotten or not, today is the harbinger of things to come.


Scary Holidays

One of the real wonder of books is that they can spawn ideas outside their specific topics.  While revised dissertations can be somewhat difficult to read, Derek Johnston’s Haunted Seasons: Television Ghost Stories for Christmas and Horror for Halloween contains quite a few such moments of birthing ideas.  While being largely British-focused, it nevertheless explores holiday horror, a phenomenon that I’ve been researching for some time.  Not really a television watcher (not any more—as a child things were quite different), I don’t really keep up with many programs.  Still, I learned a lot from this book.  One of the main questions it addresses is something I’ve long wondered about—why is there a connection between Christmas and ghost stories in England?

Johnston points out that Celtic areas tended to have Halloween or its precursors to supply an occasion for otherworldly thinking.  The English, not wanting to think of themselves as these outer-lying cultures (I’m simplifying and abstracting a bit here), developed their own tradition of the Christmas ghost story.  It pre-dates Dickens and probably goes far enough back in history that there’s no way to trace it.  Telling ghost stories around the shortest day of the year makes its own sense.  Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was perhaps the most famous example, but M. R. James’ habit of telling ghost stories (later published) to students and fellow enthusiasts on Christmas Eve also plays into it.  In Britain this led to a series of BBC Ghost Story for Christmas shows.  Meanwhile, in America, where there was quite a lot of Celtic immigration, a taste for Halloween grew.

There are so many ideas that swirl around holidays.  I’ve been exploring the topic for nearly two decades now.  Publishers, always with their eyes on the bottom line, don’t produce much like this, figuring people will only buy it one season a year, and for books that means usually the first year only.  Some people (yours truly, for one) will buy books about holidays out of season.  So much of life is preparing for special times.  I suspect that ancient people also fell into humdrum daily existences also.  Humans require stimulation, we like variety and novelty.  Holidays are a great solution—they don’t occur every day.  If they did they wouldn’t be special.  They bring something different into our workaday world and, in modern times especially, we brand them so that each one is at least slightly different.  I don’t mind seeing the seasonal displays so early in the stores—it reminds me that haunted seasons are just around the corner.


Hollow

Now that we’re officially in September, it’s kosher to talk of Halloween horror (I’ve seen Christmas decorations in the stores already).  Well, around here we don’t really need an excuse, but since it’s handy I’ll use it.  Regular readers know I’ve been on a Sleepy Hollow kick lately, and I’d been wanting to see The Hollow.  Released as an ABC television movie, it had a fairly modest budget of only about $900,000 but managed to pull in stars with name recognition.  A pre-Penny Kaley Couco also appears as the new version of Katrina Van Tassel.  Let me back up a bit.  This is set in the present day.  Halloween eve.  Karen (not Katrina) is watching a Sleepy Hollow retelling being done by Ian Cranston, but her bored escort, Brody (Brom, anyone?), goes to the graveyard instead with some of his friends.  Two of them are killed.  Oh yes, there will be spoilers.

It turns out that Ian, who’s just moved to the area, is the last remaining descendant of Ichabod Crane.  You see, after Ichabod fled, and settled in New York City, he changed his name for fear that the Horseman would find him.  Now that a Crane is back in town, the Horseman rides again.  The teen-rivalry between Ian and Brody plays out at Karen takes a shine to the newcomer.  A descendant of Hans Van Ripper, who unaccountably talks like a pirate—lots of “ye”s thrown in—realizes that the Horseman’s after the young Cranston.  Since he’s the town drunk, though, nobody really believes anything he says.  On Halloween the town has a haunted hay ride in which each side of the love triangle is involved.  Brody plays the Horseman, but suddenly there are two of them—uh oh!

Cranston, who’s on the fencing team (to the everlasting shame of his football-coach father), is able to engage the fiend in swordplay and eventually destroys him.  He gets the girl and impresses his father all in one predictable way.  There are some laughs along the way, but for the most part this is played as teen drama.  Some racy scenes (and head-chopping) led to an R rating, but there’s little that’s surprising here.  For anyone who’s interested in the various ways Washington Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” has been repackaged over the years, it’s a reasonable enough diversion.  When Halloween draws closer, however, it may well be time to try something a bit more appropriate for the harvest season.


October Early

Still feeling that August is the new October, although that particular day happened to reach over ninety degrees, I watched Halloween.  Not the John Carpenter original; I’ve seen that one a few times before.  No, I watched the 2018 version only to learn it’s a retcon.  If you’re like me you’ll wonder what a retcon is.  It’s a portmanteau of “retroactive continuity.”  That’s where a sequel goes back and makes adjustments, or simply ignores, story elements from the original to take the story forward.  I haven’t followed the Halloween franchise.  There are too many movies I want to see that are original, with fresh ideas, to be spending my time trying to find my way through an emerging mythology of a serial killer.  Michael Myers, as horror fans know, inexplicably killed his sister as a child.  As an adult he terrorized Haddonfield, Illinois  one Halloween and Laurie Strode was the final girl.

What drew me to this sequel was that Jamie Lee Curtis was back as Strode, all grown up.  Michael predictably escapes again and goes for an even higher body count in Haddonfield.  Laurie, meanwhile, has gone NRA and booby-trapped her entire house in anticipation of this day.  You can see the draw, I hope.  You kind of want to see how this ends.  The original had Michael’s apparently dead body disappear at the end.  In the retcon he was arrested after that and re-institutionalized.  The thing is, you can never really kill a monster.  Original scenes and scenarios are revisited, and those familiar with the Carpenter story are rewarded by situations that subvert expectations.  Where is he hiding this time?  You always watch the credits roll wondering how “the authorities” don’t realize that a guy shot, stabbed, and incinerated and keeps coming back might be something other than human to be put in an asylum.

I should know better than to watch these kinds of movies when I’m home alone, but I don’t.  So it’s a good thing that I try to piece all these things together.  We have three strong women—three generations of final girls here, and the obligatory basis for a sequel.  (At least two, in fact, bringing the franchise up to thirteen movies.)  Laurie’s granddaughter is among the virginal, non-drinking final-girl prototypes.  Her less Puritan friends are killed off, although her worthless boyfriend survives the night.  You’ve got to love the endless self-references of such situations.  That’s why we keep on coming back.  We’ve seen it before but we still want more.  Even if it’s only August.


July Forth

Independence Day.  What does it mean in a nation on the verge of a fascist takeover?  Supreme Court justices, themselves appointed by crooked but technically legal politics, have just struck down the independence of half the people in this country.  Independence Day for whom?  Originally a celebration of freedom from monarchy, one of our political parties has opted for authoritarianism—the objection to which was the very reason the Revolutionary War was fought.  The colonists wanted religious freedom, but now we find religiously motivated politics driving the bus off the cliff.  If you’re not a white evangelical these rulings are not for you.  Your religious freedom has been compromised by politics.  So we gather in grassy places to watch fireworks.    We celebrate the independence of the wealthy.  Those who can break the law and buy the results they want with lawyers without scruples.

I think of Independence Day from the perspective of our Black siblings.  Freedom to be shot for a traffic stop or to be publicly strangled to death for petty crime.  To be redlined and kept in poverty.  Independence from literal chains only to be shackled in bureaucratic ones.  Being sentenced to prison for things a white can easily afford to pay off.  Independence Day in a nation with over 40 million people in poverty and where just three white men own more than the bottom fifty percent of Americans.  Give them fireworks and firearms and let the bottom half work it out for themselves.  When is the last time a Supreme Court justice had to worry about having enough for both rent and food?  Freedom, those on the top tell us, is not free.  Watch the pretty lights.  Hear the loud booms.

What of American Indians, still awaiting freedom?  What is Independence Day to them?  Kept out of sight and in poverty, we don’t want to be reminded.  No, we only want freedom to get more for the white man.  As a child in the sixties I had some hope that we might be making progress.  Freedom and protest were in the air.  There was at least hope for some justice.  The privileged white leaders now give us a day off work.  The wealth can still flow upward, even if we take a brief hiatus from labor.  Women, Blacks, the poor, American Indians, and many others who make America what it is are nevertheless denied basic freedoms.  This loss of independence at least comes with a light show.  Just watch it and be grateful.


Solstice Thoughts

At the equator, the difference is nil.  The longest day and the shortest day don’t deviate from the standard day length.  The further you move from the equator, the more dramatic the effect is.  Here in the northern hemisphere this is our longest day, the solstice.  Historically, particularly in countries to the northern edge of the northern hemisphere, this is a holiday.  Midsummer marked the days of sun and growth.  Light is abundant—too abundant to sleep well in the furthest reaches.   Being visually oriented creatures, we enjoy the surfeit of light.  Light has long been a symbol of the divine for, I suppose, just that reason.  It makes us feel secure and safe.  We can see what’s going on around us.

In Antarctica, today is the shortest day of the year.  Indeed, around now there is seldom any light at all.  On the exact same day there are literally polar opposites on this planet.  The summer here is winter there.  It’s the first day of winter in the global south.  Their understanding of this day is completely different.  Of course, once you reach the shortest day, things can only improve.  The climb to summer lasts half a year, only to have the decline immediately begin again.  The difference is as subtle as it is inexorable.  For those of us who wake before the sun, it’s already obvious that sunrise is coming later than it did last week.  The earliest sunrise was the fourteenth.  Sunset will come later and later for the next few days, to compensate for the lost morning light, but overall there will be less and less until we are the winter half of the world.

There are many lessons to learn here.  In a world where the longest and shortest days are the same day—solstices depend on where you live—we don’t fight over it.  This despite the fact that light is our most precious commodity.  We simply accept that we celebrate light when we have it, and await its coming when we don’t.  Other resources we fight over.  Potable water.  Petroleum products.  Arable land.  Silently, radiantly, light shows us the way.  There’s an inevitability here.  Through long experience on the earth we simply accept it.  The other option is to fight over what we can’t control, which is futility defined.  There are lessons to learn from the longest day.  And if it’s your shortest day, you know that all will be forgiven at the next equinox.


Celebrate Juneteenth

It’s everywhere you look.  Prison statistics.  Poverty statistics.  Gun violence statistics.  We gave lip service to ending slavery but never really made our black brothers and sisters free.  Red-lining.  Police shootings for traffic stops.  It should not be illegal to be of African descent.  Juneteenth is a celebration, but a muted one.  There is much, much work left to do.  When “black lives matter” signs are countered by “blue lives matter” we know there’s a deep-rooted problem.  It’s an especially unfortunate, and hypocritical problem for a melting pot like the United States.  We have room.  We have resources.  Until recently we had commitment to freedom.  Now, just as things should be improving we cave once again to unwarranted fears and paranoia.  What’s holding us back from celebrating Juneteenth?

The solution’s not simple, but it has a clear starting point.  Our elected officials must stop valuing power over people.  Racists—of either party—should know without a doubt that they can’t win nominations.  The good people of this country will not stand for it.  Running on a platform of vacuous celebrity only—how many celebrities are really deep, clear thinkers?—should be soundly shouted down.  The two-party system requires at least a third serious challenger.  America’s leadership must start looking like the people who actually do the work in this country, not those who suck up all the profits.  Catering to the wealthy inevitably causes problems on the other end of the social ladder—the end upon which that ladder must stand.  We no longer need slaves.  We never really needed slaves.  What we need is high principles.

Othering may be normal human behavior but that doesn’t make it right.  We are able to overcome our prejudices.  We are able to say “black lives matter” without following it up with “all lives matter.”  We are able to recognize the sins of our past and repent.  Christianity has produced great followers.  These followers require leaders who have the best for the people in mind, not the best for themselves.  Corporate climbers do not understand this.  Brains addled by money, they see America as a company to run and a way to skim profits off the top.  Politicians are constantly comparing the sizes of their “war chests” for the next election when they should be soul-searching instead.  Let’s celebrate Juneteenth.  Let’s say “we were wrong” and “our theology was wrong.”  Let’s promise ourselves that any racist should fear running for high office.  Let’s end systemic racism and celebrate the results.

Photo by Leslie Cross on Unsplash

Fight for Mom

The spring holidays come think and fast.  Depending on when you start spring we’ve got Valentine’s Day followed a month later by St. Pat’s.  On it’s roving schedule Easter hops along, with its precursor Mardi Gras.  There’s Earth Day, May Day, and Mother’s Day.  One thing they all have in common, apart from being holidays, is they’re not worthy enough to be days off work.  You have to wait for Memorial Day for that.  Today, in any case, is Mother’s Day.  We stop to think, as if we shouldn’t every day, about our mothers.  Women are pretty poorly represented in the holiday scheme, unless you’re Catholic (and even those aren’t days off).  Mother’s Day always comes on a Sunday so employers are eternally thankful.  A holiday with no consequences.  But should it be?

We’re only just beginning, after being “civilized” for five thousand years, to give women their due.  Only just beginning because capitalist systems are built on male fantasies of growing rich without the female humane element.  It’s not a system friendly to mothers unless we find a way to make people spend money.  Women remind us to look for cooperation and not just competition.  Working together we can make things better for everyone.  Men, left to their own devices, go to war.  Men take what they want and women act as our conscience.  Mothers sacrifice to keep us safe and alive.  Their self-denial resonates better with the Christianity suborned by men into a money-making venture.

It’s Mother’s Day.  It’s a day to put aside our acquisitive, war-like tendencies and think of someone else.  It’s a day to imagine what it might be like if we made a habit of good behaviors.  It’s like those grades they used to give in school for “deportment.”  It wasn’t all just about how well we learned our facts.  Mothers teach us what it means to set aside our own wants for the needs of another person.  Without that the human race simply wouldn’t survive.  Instead of politically stacked courts taking away women’s rights, today we recognize that without women none of us would be here.  The human experiment only succeeds when women are recognized for all that they contribute to life.  To civilization.  To society.  We may not have commodified it, so why not listen to our mothers’ wisdom?  Why not make it every day instead of just the second Sunday of May?  Don’t forget to thank your mother today.  Better yet, fight for her rights.


Wicker Lessons

Beltane creeps up unnoticed.  Not an official holiday in these parts, it is, hopefully, a sign of slightly warmer weather than we’ve been having in April.  It’s also the day that I can’t help but think of The Wicker Man.  One of the early intelligent horror offerings, it came out 49 years ago.  My book on the movie, as far as I know, is still scheduled to come out next year, on its fiftieth anniversary.  Watch this space for further announcements.  In any case, today I have a piece on The Wicker Tree—the “spiritual sequel” to the movie, appearing on Horror Homeroom.  Societies in old Europe tended to celebrate this as the beginning of summer, which explains why Midsummer comes half-way through June.  The seasons aren’t always the same in all times and places.

In Germanic countries, Walpurgisnacht, which began last night, was a time of concern about witches.  Our modern calendar tries to concentrate our fears in late October, but they are appropriate any time of year.  These days Beltane’s more of a day when we expect warmer weather to start rolling in and perhaps, especially this year, hopes for peace.  May tends to be a hopeful time—it’s a transition.  The persistence of our fears suggests that learning to deal with them might well be a good idea.  Instead of hiding monsters away, why not face them?  The Wicker Tree isn’t a great horror movie, but something holds true for it—the monsters are us.  In that film capitalism is the real horror.

What makes The Wicker Man the classic that it is is religion.  More specifically, the clash between religions, neither of which is willing to yield.  This is largely behind religious violence throughout history, up to the present.  Religions convinced that they’re the only possible way to the truth can’t recognize that believers of other religions feel exactly the same way.  Yet May is about transitions—one season giving way to another.  It’s part of the inexorable change that marks life on this planet.  We may not fear witches in the mountains any more, but we still fear what’s out there.  Beltane is a hopeful holiday—a day of blessing animals and building fires to encourage the strengthening sun.  Instead of making it a day of clashing beliefs, perhaps we should look for our common humanity in it.  Perhaps we can learn a deeper lesson from The Wicker Man.


Normal Paranormal

One of my favorite televisions shows of all time is The X-Files.  I didn’t watch it when it originally aired, but eventually got a hankering to see it on DVD.  There are many reasons to like it, including its originality and the dynamics between Mulder and Scully and the sense that governments really do hide things.  As I rewatch episodes I see how much religion plays into it as well.  This post is actually not about the X-Files proper, but about a place in Bethlehem I recently discovered.  I’m not a preachy vegan, but I do like to support the establishments who make such lifestyles as mine much easier.  It was thus that I discovered Paranormal Pizza in Bethlehem.  I wondered about the name, figuring that it was paranormal that you could have non-dairy, non-meat pizza at all.

To celebrate Earth Day we decided to check it out.  The menu has a set of fixed items, each named after an X-Files character.  I was glad to see that I’m not alone in my appreciation of the show.  The pizza’s very good, and I’m sure the college-age crowd that was there would agree with me.  I did wonder how many of them knew the X-Files.  Is it still a thing?  Maybe recent government disclosures have brought it back into the public eye.  Hey, I’m a Bible editor, about as far from the public eye as you can possibly get.  Vegan pizza on Earth Day, however, just felt right.

Foodiness seems to be trending.  A great many options are available in the land of plenty.  Still, I know that vegetarians and vegans in developing countries exist, and many of them for similar reasons to me.  They know animals think and feel.  We promote the myth that they don’t so that we don’t have to feel guilty about exploiting them.  It seems to me that many of our world-wide problems would start to vanish if we realized we can evolve out of being predators.  Cashews and almonds can become cheese.  Soy beans and wheat can become meat.  And peanuts are about the best food ever, in any form.  Then there’s the natural fruits and veg.  Industrial animal farming is perhaps the largest polluter of our planet.  Yesterday was Earth Day.  I was eating a pizza made from wheat, tomatoes, and cashews.  These ingredients might seem a bit unusual.  Paranormal, even.  But that’s precisely the point.  I won’t be waiting until the next Earth Day to go back for more.


Love Your Mother

It’s not exactly a birthday, for we don’t know when exactly she was born.  We choose April 22 to think of our mother—the mother of us all.  For many of us concerned about the environment, not only is today Earth Day, but April has become Earth Month.  To me one of the saddest aspects of our environmental crisis is that certain sects of Christianity are largely responsible for it.  Religion working against the betterment of humankind.  So it was in the beginning, is now, and hopefully we won’t have to finish the triad.  Granted, religions help us to keep our mind on spiritual matters.  The problem is when such things become dogma and the real needs of real people are ignored so that a fervently desired fantasy can be lived out by destroying our planet.

In response there are what have been called “deep green” religions.  It’s difficult to gain a critical mass, however, when many of those who think deeply about the environment have left religion out of the equation.  It seems to me that we’ve got to make peace with our evolved tendencies toward religion in order to have any meaningful discussion about this.  Meanwhile global warming continues.  It does so with the blessing of a kind of Christianity that sees this world as expendable and exploitable based on an idiosyncratic reading of Genesis.  Even though all the evidence points in the opposite direction, we have networks (here’s looking at you, Fox), owned by billionaires who know you can sway Christianity simply by kissing your hand to the moon.

It’s my hope that this Earth Day we might start to think about how to integrate some deep green theology into the kind that sees no room for green in the red, white, and blue.  The self-convinced have no desire for conversation about this and those already certain that religion is nothing but superstition tend to agree.  Since antiquity, however, the wise have realized that progress comes from the middle ground.  Politicians, in their own self-interest, have stoked the fires of division and hatred, knowing that they get reelected that way.  Mother Earth, I suspect, is rolling her eyes.  She will survive even if we succumb to our own mythologies.  We need to learn to talk to one another.  We need to accept that we evolved to be religious.  We need to look for middle ground while there’s still dry ground on which to stand.  It’s not exactly a birthday, but it is a holiday that should be taken seriously. It’s only right to love your mother.

From NASA’s photo library

Easter Weather

The weather doesn’t always cooperate for holidays.  Easter is, at heart, a celebration of spring—life after death.  Around here this holiday has been accompanied by fits and starts in warmer weather and instead of warmer it’s actually colder again.  Just a week ago there was snow in the air.  Life’s that way; you don’t always know what to expect.  I guess I’m still in hibernation mode.  No matter the season, there never seems to be enough time to sleep.  As a youth I always attended sunrise services on Easter.  These days I regularly rise before the sun, so as long as I’m capable it’s like every day is Easter.  But with work.  Even on what many recognize as Easter—which overlaps with Passover this year—the Orthodox feel we have it too early, what with the Julian calendar still being in effect.  It’s all a matter of how we look at time.

As much as I hate mowing, I admire the exuberance of grass.  It’s ready to welcome the longer days by stretching toward the sun.  Drinking in the plenteous rain.  The dandelions have already begun to spread, opening their yellow eyes to all and sundry passing insects.  Easter is a time to reflect on life returning after winter.  And I can’t help but think of those in the southern hemisphere for which Easter falls in the autumn.  The theology fails to match the seasons as life springs up just as winter is about to set in.  The Christian viewpoint is a northern one, keyed to our seasons.  The weather doesn’t always observe the prevailing theology.

Around here Good Friday was a fine, sunny day.  Like most of the fine, sunny days it was a work day.  Now it’s a chillier Easter, the Saturday between being a mix with some rain.  When I was young—eagerly awaking for sunrise services, which I often had a hand in designing—I marveled at how the weather often seemed to cooperate.  Now as I think back, I remember coming out of Good Friday services into the incongruous sunshine and finding many an Easter still bearing an unseasonal chill.  Weather is, of course, a local and global phenomenon.  One person’s chilly Easter is too hot for someone further away.  And for yet others the onset of autumn.  Globalism has taught us to look further, to think in terms of how others might be experiencing this world.  Easter seems an appropriate time to do just that.


Spring Holidays

March and April, despite having their holidays, tend to be months of pretty solid capitalistic work.  Congress may take its April recess and universities have their spring break, but the working stiffs just keep going.  I’ve worked for a couple of British companies and they have a dilemma in the Human Resources department.  Britain has a lot more days off per year than American business practice does.  The dilemma?  How to tell your colonials that the head offices will be closed around Easter when those of the New World will remain open.  You see, very few American companies recognize what some Christians call Holy Week as a time for anything other than work.  Back in the days when I was still trying to work myself into the Episcopal priesthood, I had to ask my manager for Good Friday off and permission was only reluctantly given.

The two major Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter are vastly different in their public expression.  Despite the outlook of Scrooge, most companies consider Christmas a holiday, even to the point of giving you a Friday or Monday off if it falls on a weekend.  A present, as it were.  Easter, on the other hand, reliably falls on a Sunday.  Viewed in isolation there’s no need to give people any days off.  Since I was a teen, however, I took Maundy Thursday and Good Friday seriously.  You were, even in the Methodist church, encouraged to spend the latter in church, especially around the middle of the day.  If at all possible, it should be raining.  It wasn’t a day off for rest and relaxation, but for contemplating sin and its costs (hardly conducive to capitalism).

Universities, however, have tended to shift spring break to St. Patrick’s Day so as to get the damage of drunken students off campus.  Indeed, Purim, the Jewish spring holiday, also advocates drinking until Haman and Mordecai become indistinguishable when spoken.  Sort of like Hamilton, it was the holiday that saved the book of Esther, just like the Broadway show preserved the ten-dollar bill.  When it comes to business, however, Americans are all business.  (Did someone  mention a ten-dollar bill?!)  Money, as MC reminds us, makes the vorld go round.  And holidays are viewed as constant interruptions.  The typical work calendar will have no holidays from President’s Day in February until Memorial Day at the end of May.  It’s typically the longest stretch without a paid holiday.  Just when the weather’s starting to get nicer.  But let’s not forget, money is fully in charge here, for where your treasure is, there your heart shall be also.


1 April

Image credit: Trocche100, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The funny thing is nobody knows how it got started.  In living memory, and indeed back a century or two—even more—people have considered April 1 a day for jokes and fooling.  Perhaps it was a kind of relief after winter was finally beginning to show its tail, or perhaps it was some distortion of Hilaria, the Roman festival of the goddess Cybele.  Some have speculated that it had to do with switching from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar when many were confused as to what the actual date was.  No matter what its origins are, April Fools has stuck.  It has such resonance that even legislation passed on this date is sometimes questioned as to whether it is serious.  Some locations have grand pranks planned and budgeted.

Nobody, as noted, knows how this got started.  One of my personal favorites posits a biblical origin.  Things tend to go back to the Bible in western culture, don’t they?  This idea takes it all the way back to the tenth generation of the human race: Noah’s flood.  Back in the eighteenth century it was suggested that Noah sent out his first dove before the waters abated on April 1 (this, of course, is based on knowing the exact days of creation—something that was of considerable interest in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries).  Since the dove was sent on a “fool’s errand”—there was no dry land visible—well, April fools!

With rare exceptions this isn’t a day off work.  It’s not a holiday with any religious implications, despite speculations about Noah and his dove.  It’s really a day highlighting uncertainty.  Practical jokes can, of course, be harmful.  There can be those, such as yours truly, who might be slow to catch on.  Indeed, almost always the victim of a “practical joke” doesn’t find him or herself in an appreciative mood.  I’ve always personally thought the reference was to the weather.  Snow isn’t unusual into mid-April in parts of the northern tier.  In fact received wisdom suggests not planting annuals until May arrives.  April’s weather, in other words, fools.  Around here we’ve whiplashed through March with days in the seventies and others the coldest of the winter (or so it seemed).  Now we’re into the first full month of spring.  The early flowers are out (some of which succumbed to the cold of this week’s weather) making fools of us all.  My hope is that none of us take this day’s unknown-origin holiday too seriously.


Spring Forward

Spring officially arrives in the northern hemisphere today.  Days will be longer than nights for six months after this and many pagans will be celebrating Ostara.  Named after Ēostre, the goddess who apparently gave Easter its name, Ostara is an amalgam of the various equinox feasts and observations of antiquity.  The ancient Celts, as far as we know, held four particular holidays that fall roughly halfway between the solstices and equinoxes, with February marking Imbolc and Beltane yet to come in May.  We don’t know that they celebrated the equinox, but we don’t know that they didn’t either.  Equinoxes are a bit difficult to measure precisely with the sun’s position overhead, but we know the clever folks responsible for Stonehenge and Maes Howe could do such things, even in antiquity.

Ostara, maybe

According to Bede the Anglo-Saxons had several feasts for the goddess Ēostre.  Luckily (from his perspective), Christians had Pascha (Easter) some time near the equinox.  It’s late this year, however, since we just had the full moon (the “Worm Moon”) on Friday.  Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.  So today we’ve got Ēostre.  We know little of her beyond Bede.  Ancient Germanic peoples, like the ancient Celts, didn’t keep extensive written records.  Their religions, based on what we know of most ancient religions, were likely lively affairs.  Spring is a celebratory season and already buds and blossoms are appearing around here.  Goddess or no, there’s a feminine wonderment about the season.  It’s difficult not to feel at least a little hopeful.

Ancient deities have long been a source of fascination.  Eclipsed by an aggressively political Christianity, many of them vanished without leaving us many traces at all.  The human mind seems inclined to create gods to explain this strange but wonderful world we inhabit.  It’s clear that it wasn’t made just for us.  The birds and insects, and even the elusive reptiles and amphibians, are beginning to reappear.  Many mammals and some birds rough it through the cold hoping to emerge again into the warmth of spring.  We’ve had some warm days already, but there are likely more cold ones to come.  As the pagan gods, as Ēostre remind(s) us, transitions come in fits and starts.  Setbacks are part of progress.  Many of us believe the moral arc of the universe tends toward what is good and right.  It may take a long time to arrive, but the equinox, in its very name, bears the clue.