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arhyalon

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08:30 am: Happy Walpurgisnacht a.k.a. "Hey, Merle Corey, Duck!" Day!

I'm always intrigued by the phenomena of how some things stay and others pass away. Christmas, for instance. Apparently, it is due to Dickens and maybe the fellow who wrote “Twas the Night Before Christmas” that we have the holiday we know and love today. But how is it that Christmas has remained when so many other masses, many of which were celebrated with great fanfare years ago, have passed away?

 

May Day used to be a major holiday, yet it is all but forgotten. It shows up here and there for small town festivals. Perhaps the Wicca still celebrate it with a pole and all, but mainly, it’s been forgotten. Even Cinco de Mayo is more famous.

 

At one time, the spring had May Day and the fall had All Saints Day, and both days had dark creepy eves. I wonder how it came about that Halloween has soared above nearly all its competitors,* while Walpurgisnacht (Witches Eve – April 30th) is all but forgotten (except by Luke Reynard, of course.) 

 

*I recently was sent one of those ‘get to know your friends’ questions lists that asked “What is your favorite day of the year?” I put down “Halloween and Christmas.” The girl who sent it to me put down “Halloween” and the girl who I sent it to replied with “Halloween.” In my case, I have the excuse that my brother was born on Halloween, so our family always made a big deal of it. Not sure how the others came to their decision.

 

And when one looks at how popular certain now forgotten holidays are, one can’t help wondering which of our current holidays will eventually pass away and which will become bigger with time. Earth Day, for instance. I’m expecting it to grow, as everyone pushes it. Too bad they didn’t put it on May 1st.  May Day could have made a comeback – rather appropriately, too, as it was originally a fertility festival. After all, what is trying to ‘save the earth” and get trees to grow but the same kind of thing the ancients were asking for when they wanted the earth not to be barren.

 

Alas, I suspect a “Move Earth Day to May Day” movement would never gain steam.

 

Happy Walpurgisnacht, everyone!   



Comments

[User Picture]
From:randallsquared
Date:April 30th, 2008 01:41 pm (UTC)
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May Day is strongly associated with labor unions and socialist movements in much of the world. In the US, "Labor Day" was put in the fall rather than on the traditional May 1 to short circuit such efforts here. If I understand correctly. :)
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:April 30th, 2008 01:49 pm (UTC)
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Interesting!

I know All Saints Day, which is basically ignored in America, is very big in South America.
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From:annafirtree
Date:May 1st, 2008 12:39 am (UTC)
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All Saints Day is still a Holy Day of Obligation (meaning we have to go to Mass) for Catholics. It's one of my favorite Holy Days so I'm trying to make up some traditions to go with it, for my kids. The last two All Saints Days we took the Halloween pumpkin(s) and made pies out of it to give to neighbors.
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From:arhyalon
Date:May 1st, 2008 01:46 am (UTC)
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I almost mentioned this, that it was still a holiday for some denominations. The general public, though, doesn't even seem to know about it.
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From:annafirtree
Date:May 1st, 2008 04:14 am (UTC)
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I think most of the changes in holidays in the last hundred years or two are from the increasing secularization of our culture. Halloween went from being an eve where the dead were remembered seriously (and eerily) - which is something you aren't likely to do if you don't believe the dead exist in some way - to being about dressing up playfully and getting candy - which is something you can do regardless of religious belief or lack thereof. Walpurgisnacht (which I've never heard of) apparently didn't manage to make that transition. Christmas and Easter, because they were such major religious holidays, got coopted into the secular culture, now being about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or (if you're watching a sentimental movie) about the togetherness of family.

All Saints Day is an explicitly religious holiday. It probably could have been coopted into the secular culture (if Christmas and Easter could, with their explicitly religious messages, what couldn't?), but I suspect it wasn't a big enough holiday to be worth the effort of 'converting' it, so to speak. Halloween was easier, and why have two big holidays next to each other?

(I'm personifying a culture somewhat - I don't really think someone sat down and planned how to treat the holidays - it was just the natural developments that accompanied the overall secularization.)
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:May 1st, 2008 12:31 pm (UTC)
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I completely agree. That's why Valentine's and St. Patrick Day are bigger...they've become generally popular. While few people celebrate St. David's Day...unless they are actually Welsh.

Walpurgisnacht was German (as you can probably guess from the name.) I doubt it was ever an English holiday. (I know about it thanks to Roger Zelazny. He had a character named Merle Corey who someone tried to assasinate every Walpurgisnacht, so the date stuck in my memory. Luke Reynard, referred to above, is the guy who is trying to kill Merlin every April 30th.)


My favorite new holiday is September 19th -- Talk Like A Pirate Day.
[User Picture]
From:juliet_winters
Date:April 30th, 2008 04:38 pm (UTC)
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We had May Day festivities at our elementary school, complete with May Pole. Maybe it's something we could do next year.
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From:coruca
Date:April 30th, 2008 09:35 pm (UTC)
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Forgotten holidays like Arbor day? I have vague memories of doing something about this when I was in elementary school, but hear nothing of it now.

I change my work phone message daily (to let people know I am in) and I also tell them that day's official holiday. My source is http://www.brownielocks.com/month2.html, which has some great days, such as:

National Hairball Awareness Day (April 29)
No pants Day (May 2: http://www.nopantsday.com/wp/)
Yell "Fudge" at the Cobra in North America (July 2)

Okay, so I like the silly ones! :-)
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From:arhyalon
Date:April 30th, 2008 10:31 pm (UTC)
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No Pants Day! ;-) For the "King of No Pants." I'll have to tell my family.
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From:juliet_winters
Date:May 1st, 2008 10:17 am (UTC)

Better not...

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combine No-pants Day with a May Pole.
; )
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:May 1st, 2008 12:31 pm (UTC)

Re: Better not...

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Somehow, I think my boys would LOVE that! ;-)
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From:juliet_winters
Date:May 1st, 2008 02:53 pm (UTC)

Re: Better not...

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Puh-lease! My son is just now developing a bit of decorum as regards bottom nakedness. Not that we pressed him into particularly, but I suppose it was inevitable.

He constructed his first complete, totally independent sentence in speech class today:
"My dad is a teacher."
(Pass Kleenex)
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:May 1st, 2008 07:30 pm (UTC)

Re: Better not...

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Ahwwww! Wow! That's wonderful!
From:shana_sfo
Date:May 6th, 2008 04:03 am (UTC)

Hallowe'en - popular and kept because of cakes & beer

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"At one time, the spring had May Day and the fall had All Saints Day, and both days had dark creepy eves. I wonder how it came about that Halloween has soared above nearly all its competitors,"

Fr Scott Archer of the Peoria diocese did a lot of research on Halloween.

Orignally, All Saints was on May 13, but was moved in the 700's to November 1 because a new chapel dedicated to All Saints (All Hallows) was dedicated in Rome by Pope Gregory III. The eve before All Hallows Mass was kept by eating a family meal, praying Psalm 129 together, lighting oil lamps or candles, and baking Soul Cakes (like a scone) to give to groups of people who came to the door to offer prayers for the dead in exchange for something to eat. (Like Christmas caroling, but without the hot chocolate.) The vigil for any feast begins at sundown, so Hallowe'en (All Hallows Evening) is the vigil of All Hallowsmass.

In 998, the French added All Souls (a day to pray for all the faithful who have died)on November 2. The Irish, not to be outdone, banged pots and pans outside on Oct 31 to let the damned know they were prayed for, too, but this practice was abandoned because the damned cannot benefit from prayer. The Irish did NOT dress up for this, nor carve turnips.

In England, All Hallowsmass was suppressed by Queen Elizabeth along with most overtly Catholic practices. Catholics did leave and go to the Colonies, taking their religious practices and prayers and traditions like Soul Cakes with them.

The costumes have nothing to do with druids or ancient practices, but due to a combination of the 14th century French reenactment of a live Dance of the Dead as a tableau, Mexican Day of the Dead festivities to the south in Mexico, and Guy Fawkes day (Nov 5) in England.

Nov 5 was a day that a lot of English harrassed their Catholic neighbors and this traveled to the Colonies, too. It was not unusual in the English colonies for drunken men to light bonfires and then go about with hoods over their faces demanding their Catholic neighbors give them 'cakes and beer' - demanding the 'Soul Cakes' be turned over as 'protection money'. I'll bet most men are sorry THAT tradition didn't keep!

The skulls and other skeletal stuff come from both Mexico and France. Mexican Catholics celebrated with sugar skulls and other reminders that all will die and face judgement. Much is left over from the images of the various native peoples and their pagan beliefs and practices. Carving pumpkins is uniquely American. No one knows exactly who began carving them and lighting them. But they are just perfect for spooky heads, aren't they? So I suppose it was just a matter of time....

Eventually the practices of harassing all your neighbors, not just the Catholic ones, demanding protection 'food' from them and dressing up in costumes evolved from a thing drunken men did, to things teens did and then to a harmless children's activity. Catholics, when no longer the special targets, began to join in. The idea that it was a 'devil's holiday' and creepy and evil was a modern myth too, but the origins of that is another story in itself.

SO *Cakes and Beer* are the REAL reason Halloween has become a favorite holiday and continued where other holidays failed!

The celebration of Christmas, on the other hand, went back to England (where it had been banned by Puritans as a Papish practice) by Prince Albert, who was a German Protestant whose family still kept Christmas with trees decorated with candles, apples and small wrapped gifts. Dickens did indeed give Christmas back some of its dignity, but Albert brought the first Christmas Tree to England.

Americans had adapted various Christmas practices from among the various Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant colonists after the ban on it was lifted here. It did become glutted with commercialism through the 1800's and became increasingly secularized in the last 50 years, but it is a Christian holy day, and has been for a long time. It is now thought that Christmas was not stolen by Christians from Roman pagans, but the most recent research shows that the Roman pagans may have instead created their feast to the Sun in imitation of Christians. But that is also another story.

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