Cancelled Easter

The year they cancelled Easter.  Well, not exactly.  Perhaps I’m merely a product of the commercialization of my time, but my thoughts go back to the Grinch.  “It came without boxes,” he said, “it came without bags” (and any more might be copyright infringement).  You get the point—holidays aren’t reliant upon their trappings.  Can Easter come without colorful eggs?  Without baskets and bonnets?  Without Peeps and chocolates?  Yes, it can.  We’ve taken another holiday with religious origins and associated it with what you can buy.  I know it’s more than that for some people.  It’s singing stirring hymns (all of which can be found on YouTube), and dressing nice (which can still be  done at home), but mainly I think it’s the sense of togetherness that’s missing.  The freedom of bursting from our personal tombs in which we’ve been stuck for three weeks.

Around here snow was falling on Good Friday.  A friend told me her company decided since everyone was working remotely they would give them an extra holiday that day.  Others of us slogged on as usual, for unlike Christmas, the Easter/Passover complex is not about getting days off work.  These are, I guess, working class holidays.  Our capitalistic outlook wants us to spend money, though, on holidays.  Halloween (on which I foresee a plethora of plague doctor costumes) has become almost as lucrative as Christmas.  The spring holidays—St. Valentine’s, St. Patrick’s, and Easter—encourage spending as well.  Can we not get to the heart of a holiday without pulling out our wallets?  Spring holidays are all about the return of life after winter.  It was snowing, but I could hear lawnmowers in the distance.

With capitalism growing old and sluggish, the next spending holiday isn’t until Mother’s Day, yet another spring celebration associated with flowers and life.  My wife has been saying that what she misses is being out to see things coming back to life in spring.  Some of the trees are putting on quite a show already.  Magnolias and dogwoods have started to scatter their petals with the snowflakes.  Our daffodils have been blooming since March.  The forsythias are already going green.  Life is returning.  That’s what Easter, and in its own way Passover, is all about.  Life after imprisonment—freedom.  Liberation.  We have to put them off this year, but they’re all movable feasts.  We keep quietly apart in the hopes that life really will return after disease and death.  And it will come regardless.  It always does.

Bunny or No?

Since we’re in the midst of a smaller holiday season (capitalistic societies can only get away with one major holiday season because the workers must work) many people are wondering whether they should go to church for Easter tomorrow.  I’ll confess I woke up from a nightmare this morning where I accidentally forgot about COVID-19 and went to church.  I stepped inside and the building was full.  I tried to find an empty pew to socially distance myself from all but the Divine, and there was no room.  I felt infected as others started to cough around me.  In real life I’d just read from the World Health Organization’s situation report (number 80, located here, in case you want to see) that we’ve just reached day 100 since WHO received its first notification of this new disease.  The report has guidance for those who feel compelled to gather for religious services.  It makes for very interesting reading.

WHO, like certain political parties, knows that people will listen to their religious leaders rather than reason.  (And still our universities cut positions in their religion departments since, apparently, it is best not to know about such things.)  Recognizing that a secular, science-based organization simply can’t compete, WHO urges religious leaders to spread the word about evidence-based responses to the outbreak.  Don’t gather large Easter-day crowds (they also mention Passover and Ramadan), but, interestingly, do keep the services going.  WHO recognizes the psychological (you can’t say “spiritual”) value of religious belief.  It gives people hope and comfort.  It keeps them going in difficult times.  Call it mental health, but the World Health Organization has wellbeing right there in its title.

Photo credit: ItsLassieTime, via Wikimedia Commons

Ironically, the same day I saw an email from the other acronym in my life, SBL (the Society of Biblical Literature).  They were releasing their annual report showing the dismal job market figures for the discipline over the last year.  These jobs are fading and although WHO recognizes billions of people are motivated by religion our smartest institutions are shifting their money away from understanding it.  The COVID-19 outbreak puts us in this strange place where disjunctures become focal points.  If you look at a field of uniform gray long enough you’ll stop seeing anything at all.  You need contrast for vision to work.  WHO recognizes that religious observance constitutes a major challenge for the effort to keep people isolated.  Universities now in isolation, continue to see no reason to study this.  I’m waiting to awake from this nightmare.

Holiday Complex

Now that we’re in the midst of a complex of Judeo-Christian holidays (Passover, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, as well as other spring rites), I’ve been thinking of obligations.  I’ve had people introduce themselves to me as “Chri-easters.”  This isn’t a new form of religion, but rather a way of indicating that they attend services on Christmas and Easter only.  For others of us it’s never been so easy.  I was raised with the stern belief that Sundays in church were a matter of absolute obligation.  Serious illness was the only reason to miss.  If you were traveling (which was rare for us, being not terribly affluent), you found a local church to attend.  Never mind that you’ll look like strangers and won’t know how it’s done (unless you’re in one of the “liturgical” denominations, where variations are minimal).  Every Sunday was an obligation.

The minister at our church has been offering virtual holy week services.  The idea haunts me.  You see, back in Nashotah House days the sternness of days of obligation was palpable.  Yes, you had to attend chapel twice daily, but there were still days of obligation.  At this time of year we’d have had long rehearsals already for “the Great Three Days.”  Forsaking family and fellowship, we’d be forced to be together for long hours while the dreary events of two millennia ago were replayed.  Of course they were reinterpreted as well.  Made more Episcopalian—even a crucifixion should be done properly and in good order.  Knowing they had to get to their own churches on Sunday, students were kept up until about two a.m. for the Great Vigil and First Mass of Easter.  Obligation, not love, drove all this.

Coronavirus has us separated, of course.  Some of us are daily seeking coping techniques to help us get through a crisis that throws off schedules and sets new priorities.  To have someone suggest in the midst of all this that we could “come to church” (virtually) transports me to those fearful days of obligation.  As a teen I sought them out.  I’d ask to be driven to a different town on Good Friday so that I could spend it in church, hoping to be in connection with the tragic events.  I’d curse the sunshine when I stepped back out after three p.m., if it was shining.  This was supposed to be a dark and dreary day.  Nature, however, had its own ideas.  Spring was in full swing.  It was time to be thinking about life, not death.

Lunar New Years

Celebrating the New Year in the middle of winter is a strange idea, at first glance. As I have discussed before, January 1 is “Circumcision-style New Year,” based on the projected date of Jesus’ circumcision after the church had settled on December 25 as his birthday. In actuality, a winter New Year date is due to its proximity to the winter solstice, and the other popular contenders for the honor of the head of the year, historically, have been the spring and autumnal equinoxes. The matter gets more complicated when a culture has a lunar calendar since the sun and moon don’t see eye-to-eye when it comes to their timing. That accounts, obviously, for a shortened February, but also for why a full moon doesn’t occur on the same day of each month. Now, I know little of Chinese culture, but I do know that Chinese New Year fell on January 28 this year, initiating the year of the rooster. Considering what had happened only eight days prior, this feels incredibly apt to me.

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Cultural diversity is a wonderful thing, and this nation is rich in it. You can, to pick a trite example, sample cuisines from around the world in a moderately sized town. Here in New Jersey getting onto a public transit bus will almost guarantee that you’ll hear at least one non-English conversation going on. Nevertheless I do have to confess that I don’t know what the year of the rooster represents in a Chinese context. As concepts cross borders they take on new associations and those who assign those new associations don’t represent those from the original land. So let it be here. Not knowing what the rooster symbolizes in China, I turn to its American expression—the cock. This is its year. The newspaper headlines read like a fortune cookie, in this distorted view of things.

To shift this metaphor to yet another cultural context—originally Jewish, but now appropriated by Christians around the world—think of Passover. For Jesus a night of betrayal. Peter, arguably Jesus’ best friend, denied three times in one night that he even knew his BFF. Cursing and swearing, according to the Gospels, he said, “I don’t know that man.” The cock crowed. It was around the spring equinox. A new year had begun. Within 24 hours, according to the story, Jesus was dead. We have much to learn from other cultures. The concepts change, however, when they’re stopped at the border.

Awakening Forces

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens does not disappoint. Many of us who saw the original installment recognized the archetypal image right away. Good versus evil, light and darkness, the quest for the father, and a host of other tropes backed the story in ways that made us believe we were in a galaxy far, far away. As is well known, the mythographer Joseph Campbell was closely consulted on the movie, bringing his own Jungian understanding of myth to the story. We felt that we cared about the outcome of these characters’ lives. Prequels are, of course, a hard sell. Although technically proficient, the Sith episodes I-III dulled the eyes of many original fans. It wasn’t just because the action had to be all “shoot-‘em-up” western style either. There is a logic to mythology, and yes, whether we want to admit it or not, religious imagery. The Force Awakens returns to that religious, archetypal imagery and it shows not only in box office numbers, but in the reviews.

This is one of those movies that kept interrupting my subconscious the night after I saw it, even as a matinee. There was some powerful imagery going on there. Having seen the film only once, I’m sure much of it escaped me, but even based on the trailers people were wondering about the cruciform light saber wielded by Kylo Ren. Naturally, the force does awaken, carrying the mythology further. C-3PO, however, is the one who blurts out “Thank the Maker” when the resistance finally gets a break. What would a robot know of the force? Visions and prophets, the stuff of classical conflicts of good and evil, are fully present and accounted for. Even the marking of Finn’s helmet in the opening scene has elements of the Passover to it.

What stayed with me the most is a concept traditionally associated with the Quakers—the light within. Kylo Ren is struggling to defeat that light. Others are, in effect, praying for him to realize that it is still there. The force pervades every living thing, but humanoids have the light within. Movies that understand this kind of archetypal thinking quickly draw a fan base. Part of what we are seeing on the screen moves beyond entertainment to a kind of religious thinking. The original trilogy led to the growth of an actual religion called Jediism. The tenets are almost Manichean in their duality, and despite an ending that leaves you wondering, those who know the power of mythology have no doubts who, at the end, will be victorious. It is the way of the force.

Worth Saving

Once we speed past Easter/Passover, holidays start to fall by the wayside as we try to get back to the serious business of either finishing up school for the year or, in a more pedestrian view, just plain business. Holidays interrupt the flow. Break the continuity. Stop and start. That’s why those of us on the working end of the spectrum appreciate them so much. Nevertheless, what should be the most important sacred day of them all is just another work day. Today is Earth Day. Recognized by no major religion (what religion wants to shake the status quo of business that brings in lucre?), Earth Day is a chance to pause and think about the undermining that we dole out to our long-suffering planet. We are nearing the point, many scientists warn, where climate change will become unreversible. We’ve had years, indeed, decades of lead time, during which the wealthiest nation in the world has been digging the grave the fastest. Even the popular media has been sending its subtle hints: anybody wonder why flood stories predominate in this climate? Think about it.

Reading books about environmental degradation is a depressing exercise. The size of the task is overwhelming and we’ve lost the ability even to reach our own government officials who are nevertheless impotent before big business. We can try to plant a tree, pick up trash, or recycle our plastics, but the destruction is taking place on an industrial scale. Ironically, as we go about making our own planet uninhabitable, scientists are beginning to believe that there is life on other planets. Some of us have suspected that all along. And if they come here that must mean we have something worth preserving. My guess is that it is nothing big business can provide. We can be so much more than consumers.

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Businesses are like all of the selfish motives we’ve had to suppress congealed into an anonymous venture in which none have the ultimate responsibility. Driving at night with the headlights off. I have worked for companies that have wanted to be seen as environmentally friendly. None of them, however, have taken the step of making Earth Day a recognized holiday. A moment of silence. A requiem for a dying planet. The draw of profit is just too strong. The old adage is that if a business is not growing it’s not healthy. Instead of ensuring that the only planet we can reach will be able to sustain us for a few more years, we want to go out with our pockets full. And where, I wonder, to we plan to spend all that money?

Happy Disruption

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Last night’s full moon shone brightly, announcing the grounding of the date of Easter, obviously associated with Passover. Unless one has a natural sense of the progressions of the lunar calendar, Easter can always seem a matter of guesswork. It fall on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. It is one the many transitional season holidays. All holidays are intended to be disruptions from the normal flow of time. Of course, business is the natural enemy of holidays, except for Christmas, and, increasingly, Halloween. The usual business calendar eschews disruption, and there are no days off associated with the Passover-Easter complex. A little thing like death and resurrection shouldn’t stand in the way of turning a solid profit. Still, the point of holidays is their disruption of normal time.

My own time faces disruption this week with a business trip to England. Funny how often these seem to be demanded about this time of year. My usual blog posting patterns will surely be disrupted as time zones zip up across the Atlantic. Disruption will become endemic. Disruption without the celebration. Ritual experts tell us that Passover, the basis for Easter, was a development from an even earlier pre-biblical rite. People have always found a way of marking the more obvious transition of seasons, the planned disruption of daily life.

Routine becomes comfortable, no matter how inherently uncomfortable it may be. I awake before 4 a.m. each day with many others whose lives are dictated by bus schedules and economic necessity. No matter how many years I’ve been doing this my body objects to the early hour that draws me from the comfort of sleep. It is a disruption. Now my disruption is about to be disrupted and I’m wondering what is holy about any of this. Time, which always comes in limited quantities, seems best spent with those we wish to celebrate. Our own private holidays. But business and resurrection don’t sit comfortably together. True religion and money are, it seems, inherently at odds. As I pack my bag and turn to the east, I look at my calendar and wonder when the next true holiday will arrive.

Middle Eastern Idol

As the Passover-Easter complex of holidays approaches, our stern, scientific face turns toward the more human sensibilities of religion and its impact on our lives. PBS recently aired the Nova special The Bible’s Buried Secrets (originally aired in 2008) and when a colleague began asking me about it I figured I’d better watch it. As an erstwhile biblical scholar there wasn’t much here that was new to me, but one aspect of the program bothered me. Well, to be honest several things bothered me, but I’ll focus on one. When referring to the gods of the Canaanites, among whom the program readily admitted the Israelites should be counted, they were invariably referred to as “idols.” The problem with this terminology goes back to an issue I frequently addressed with my students—the term “idol” is a way of demeaning the gods of a different religion. Implicit in the word is the assumption of the monotheistic worldview and its attendant problems.

The Bible’s Buried Secrets seemed to adopt an overly optimistic view of the monotheistic religions sharing the same god while everyone else worshipped idols. The view is as fraught as it is simplistic. Historically Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are certainly connected. Each recognizes in the others a glimmer of its own theology and outlook, but the concept of deity has shifted somewhat at each development. Judaism and Islam are rather aniconic, especially compared to many varieties of Christianity where images are allowed, or even encouraged. It is difficult to grab the attention of the magazine-reading public with an image of invisibility on the cover. It should come as no surprise that some Jews and Muslims believe Christian images to be, well, idols.

An idol moment?

An idol moment?

The word “idol” is by nature pejorative. Ancient people were sophisticated polytheists. That statue that represented a deity was not thought to be that deity in any absolute sense. Rituals assured the ancients that they were instilling some aspect of divinity into the statues they used, making them sacred in the same way a Christian consecrates a church building. What’s more, it is natural for people to seek a visual focus for its devotion. It is difficult to conceptualize the Almighty as a person without giving it (often him) a body. Islam, especially, has been adamant that this can’t be done, and looking back at Christian practice it is sure to see idols abounding. As the holy days begin for our vernal celebrations, we should perhaps use the opportunity to rethink such religious vocabulary since every orthodoxy is someone else’s paganism.

Lost Supper

Culture, for better or worse, involves a deep connection to religion. No matter how secular we suppose the world to be, profound connections to belief surface in the most unlikely places. Time magazine’s culture section this past week has a brief blurb on “Burger Blunders.” Having been a vegetarian for a decade-and-a-half, this short story might not have caught my interest had my wife not pointed out “the Ghost,” a burger offered by Kuma’s Corner, a heavy-metal band-themed bar in Chicago. “The Ghost” comes with an unconsecrated communion wafer on top, and this has raised some spirits, according to Time’s culture team. Even Protestants recognize the power of the symbol of the wafer, even if they can’t accept transubstantiation. In Catholic belief, however, prior to consecration the sliver of bread is just that—a bit of pressed wheat product. The wafer came to be preferred because it was more easily contained than the crumbs of a regular piece of consecrated bread.

Communion, or the Eucharist, is a ritual meal based on the Jewish Passover. According to the Gospels, it was during the “last supper,” a Passover seder, that Jesus instituted the ritual. Early Christians ate together, and, recalling the symbolism, gave special prominence to the bread and wine. Bread, however, produces crumbs. When theology got ahold of bread it became a sacred object, after it was properly consecrated. It was believed (is still believed by some) to be very powerful in that state since it had become the actual body of Christ during the ritual. Wafers, technically unleavened bread, had many advantages to the emerging theological sensitivities. Portion control, symmetry, and virtually no crumbs. I’ve attended many masses, and the extreme care for particle control is everywhere from ciborium to patten to sacred linens that cover the altar like a liturgical table cloth. They are all accessories to the containment of broken bread.

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Communion wafers, however, when unconsecrated are just bread (if even that). They are not made palatable as snacks, but are more easily available online than basic gears or recordings of your favorite musical. Heavy metal has always enjoyed its blasphemous image as one of the most in-your-face counter-cultures possible. It is also profoundly religious. (Note, I am not saying that heavy metal is Christian or even Judeo-Christian, but it does participate deeply in religious symbolism.) If robbed of its shock-value, it is just loud noise. By association, however, many people mistake the wafer itself for what it represents. Without the added ingredient of consecrations, however, the liturgical churches tend to say it’s just bread. If you’ve ever eaten it, you’ll know that that assertion requires faith sufficient to move a Big Mac.

Good, Friday

Riding public transit sometimes turns into a religious experience. Various bus drivers will wish passengers a “blessed day” as they pull into the Port Authority Bus Terminal—not that I can blame them, after the traffic they face daily, for taking a spiritual breather. Lately, though, I have been wished a happy Easter by the driver. Ironically, I must note, because people of many faith traditions ride the bus. Not all are Easter riders. Just yesterday a Rastafari stood before me in line. I’m regularly joined by Hindus, Jews, and maybe even a Mormon or two (who can tell?). Holy Week in New York is a surreal experience. I chatted with some co-workers where the topic changed effortlessly from their experiences of Passover to others’ experiences of Easter. Religion is alive and well in the Big Apple, but it is mostly an afterthought to the real business of making money. That’s what we’re all here for, after all.

Money, according to the good book, is inimical to the lifestyle of faith. I must have a little too much faith, I guess, since I have so precious little money. Nothing throws that into such sharp relief as looming tuition bills. You see, I tried “to fight the good fight” only to learn that there’s no way to win it without playing by the entrepreneur’s rules. Filling out the FAFSA over the smoldering ruins of my “earning years” was a distinctly sobering experience. I went into higher education because I believed in it—there’s that pesky faith again. The things you believe in, however, have a way of turning on you. I suppose that’s an appropriate reflection for Good Friday.

It’s hard to be an idealist in a world where people say, “you just need someone to give you a chance,” and then turn their backs on you. So as I’m walking across town, thinking about my blessed day, I notice that we’re all in this together. Except some of us. In the idealist world, those who want it the most sometimes win it. Those who play by the rules. I had no Harvard aspirations, just a reasonable job in a little college would suit me fine. A place to think that doesn’t have wheels and aluminum sides and seat forty-nine other lost souls. But for those who have less, even the little they have will be taken from them. That’s biblical too. Higher education is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children, but it easily joins hands with Judas Iscariot. It is Good Friday, according to some. Others just call it a blessed day.

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Educating Religion

The delicate dance engaged in by “church and state,” despite its apparent grace, includes many awkward stumbles and gaffs. Nowhere is this more apparent than in higher education at state-sponsored schools. I teach in two large state universities and the spring semester is winding to its accustomed close in both. The religious calendar of Judaism and Christianity, however, is just winding up. Based on a lunar calculation, the date of Passover is a moveable feast that takes Easter along with it. A late holiday season complicates the end of the semester when many students are held captive by religious leaders insisting that they cannot attend class during this most sacred of seasons. I’ve had many students missing class this week with final exams just around the corner. The students are, however, the innocent victims.

Religions are generally famous for unwillingness to compromise. I have both Jewish and Christian students who attend class despite the holidays while others find the requirements of enforced celebration more pressing. I do not pretend to have an equitable answer for this dilemma, I simply feel myself being squeezed between two colossal forces: the demands of the academy and the requirements of the faiths. Even state universities recognize the liberty of conscience and regulate excused absences for religious holidays. The information missed, however, cannot be easily acquired so close to the end of term.

This jumble of conflicting demands is particularly evident in a Religion Department. Teaching a subject that many – including not a few deans – assume is How to be Religious 101, a lowly instructor is beset with the weight of ecclesiastical and rabbinic decree while trying to educate the young about their own backgrounds. And if grades are not stellar due to missed lectures, it is the teacher who must be blamed. No great wonder, I suppose. We see shifting blame as a repeating pattern among our political and business leaders as well. It is always somebody else’s fault. Oblivious, “church and state” continue their waltz and gather their funds while a few toes get stepped on as the first full moon after the vernal equinox exerts its firm pull on all believers.

In the light of darkness

The Passover-Easter Complex

Some years back I completed an unpublished book for young readers on the holidays. This project was undertaken because most holidays have a religious origin and because I could find no comparable source for kids to learn this information from a reliable source. Unfortunately publishers have showed little interest. Rather than waste the effort it took to write the book, I have been installing segments here, on the Full Essays page of my blog. Since it is Easter for many Christians today, I have added the next installment: the Passover-Easter Complex. It begins like this:

No doubt the most complicated set of holidays are those that surround the changing of the seasons – the solstices and equinoxes. Among even those holidays, the Passover (Jewish) and Easter (Christian) complexes are especially complex. Like most major holidays these celebrations have very interesting roots. Problem is, it is hard to know where to begin! We’ve already started with Mardi Gras, but that is kind of a festival on its own. To really get started, we have to turn back to the calendar (again?).

Easter, like Passover, is a “moveable feast.” That doesn’t mean playing musical chairs while you eat! It means that the dates change depending on the moon, so to figure out the date you have to (you guessed it) look at the sky. (Actually, these days you can look on the web or in many books used by churches to figure it out. But work with me here, let’s pretend it is, gasp, before these things were invented!) Two days of the year have an equal amount of day and night all around the world, when the earth stands up straight on its axis. Marking the beginning of spring and fall they are called the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. (“Equinox” means “equal-night,” “vernal” means “green” or spring, and “autumnal,” duh, “in autumn.”) Back when people had no TV, this was a big thing! Not only was it cool to have equal day and night, in the spring it meant days were finally getting longer and warmer. For ancient people it meant that light was winning the struggle with darkness.

Read more…

Heavenly Visitors

With Passover hard upon us, I was a little disturbed to receive a letter on Friday that read, “A heavenly visitor will pass your house…” Having been raised on the sturdy fare of Exodus, I knew that heavenly visitors more often take the form of marauding angels than of jocular Santa Clauses. It seemed an ominous warning. Of course, it came from the Saint Matthew’s Churches that sent me such good wishes of divine promises of prosperity some months back, so I had to assume it was a purely coincidental biblical reference. The folks at Saint Matthew’s Churches are, after all, Bible believers.

Perhaps because of that fateful letter, I dreamed, in good Genesis style, a dream two nights ago. I dreamed that I found a dollar coin on the ground at a family outing. A few feet away lay another. And another. Wherever we went in that Morpheus-bewitched town there were silver dollars unclaimed on the ground. My trousers were being dragged down with the weight of the lucre in my pockets. I couldn’t believe my good fortune! Then I awoke, still employed only part-time, still worrying every minute about whether we can meet all the bills. Perhaps the dream was a message? Should the Saint Matthew’s’ folks be right, prosperity was headed my way. Saturday’s powerball jackpot was in the double-digit millions. I very rarely play the lottery, but since state education in New Jersey needs all the help it can get, I offered up a dollar to see if Saint Matthew’s’ prosperity was at hand.

No. Not even one number came close. Perhaps there is a secret clause in the prosperity gospel contract. Perhaps those who prosper must hold certain conservative views on social issues. The views, say, my mother holds. Yet she lives in a trailer on a severely circumscribed income. That doesn’t seem to be it either. Last night I awaited another dream. Instead, the next-door neighbors were holding a loud party until 3 a.m. Perhaps celebrating Palm Sunday? Or perhaps that was the heavenly visitor passing over for Passover a couple of days early? Either way, I didn’t sleep well last night knowing that something was just outside my window.

Happy Circumcision Style New Year!

2009 ended with a blue moon. Last night’s lunar display (for those who could see the satellite) was the second full moon in December, one of the accepted definitions of a blue moon being the second full moon in any one month. Apart from its cool beauty of mythological fame, the moon is a timepiece to rival any Rolex or even Timex. Many ancient peoples lived by lunar calendars since the 28-day units of lunar time were regular and much more obvious to the layperson than solstices or equinoxes. A full moon is hard to miss.

Last night's blue moon from Wikipedia Commons

The marking of time is a religious activity. The date of Easter is still set according to the full moon; Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Since Passover is a moveable feast and since we don’t know the year of Jesus’ death, Easter is a mathematical shot in the dark. It is regular because of the steady cycles of the moon. Time is a non-renewable resource, and since religions are generally concerned with what happens after death, time gains a sacred blush. Few holidays are truly secular in origin.

New Year’s is one of the most important holidays in the ancient world. There, the proper observance of seasons meant correct planting and harvesting times, and the possibility of survival. Living very close to the land, people required the assurance of the gods that their meager returns for labor led to enough food to survive. Keeping the gods happy as the new year began was essential. In the United States, New Year’s Day was observed on March 25 until 1752. It was observed on the supposed date of Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary that Jesus would be born. If you want to understand the title of today’s post, you’ll need to take a look at the Full Essays page and read the New Year’s Day section from my as-yet unpublished book for teens on the holidays. It does have a religious basis, as does circumcision itself.