Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Preliminary Expectorata

One thing to keep in mind, is that "holiday" has its etymological origins in "holy day." And "holy," with all the attendant religious overtones and understones attached to it, is best understood, as pure, as undefiled, as bounded off and kept safe.

It can, of course, be hierarchical; a privileged position, even a superior one: "Come not near to me, for I am holier than thou." Isaiah 65:5. But it can also be understood as simply preserved, bounded off, kept pure and so deserving of reverence, of awe and respect and honor. "Remember the Sabbath, and keep it holy," the law of Moses says. In a subsistence agricultural society where that law began, such a command is an act of faith, indeed, way of enacting, one day out of every seven, "give us this day our daily bread." Keeping one day holy is, among other things, keeping before the people the reminder of where the sustenance of their lives comes from; to remind the people of the source of their life. Clearly this is particular and peculiar to the children of Abraham. But to keep the day holy, is a profession and confession of faith, not a burden and another obstacle. "The Sabbath was made for man," Jesus of Nazareth will remind the lawyers, later.

And so were holidays: they were times set apart, meant to be kept pure of work and effort and toil and the burdens of authority. It was the Puritans, trying to establish a new authority, who wanted to keep holidays pure of worldly entertainments, and so keep holidays "pure" by their own lights. It's a tricky quest, trying to do things right. But that's the one we're set on.

So, keeping the "holy-days," the holidays. How can we do that, outside of a religious context, a specifically Judeo-Christian context? Maybe, if we do not profess one of the religions of the book, we can still do it from that context. That, at least, is where we're going.

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