2015: Advent Religion: Ordinary Time

by on December 16, 2015

Strictly speaking, the churches of my childhood did not have a liturgical calendar. They couldn’t have one by definition; they didn’t have a liturgy. Strictly speaking, any given Sunday was the same as any other Sunday, and we did not commemorate any of those weird un-Christian Catholic holy days.

As ever, theory and practice were not as one.

We didn’t actually have a problem with the idea of the year as a cycle passing through points of particular significance – that is, we weren’t offended by the idea of a church calendar. We didn’t think the days themselves were intrinsically significant, but we were okay with the idea that we could make them special by engaging in particular remembrances. We accepted that we, as imperfect human people, could not really think about everything at once, so it was good to have times set aside to focus on particular things.

Also, we liked festivals.

So we rejected saint’s days with a passion. Saints existed in our religion only as objects of denial. We had an anti-reverence for saints. It was suspect even to learn things from their biographies, because saints were idolatrous and heretical and spoiled everything they touched. So, you know, we weren’t big on that part of the calendar.

But we really liked the Jesus bits. Christmas was the biggest festival, for three main reasons: it had general cultural agreement as an important festival, it had the good music, and it didn’t have Lent. Lent was another Catholic practice we didn’t really approve of. Fasting? That smells of salvation through works. We don’t do fasting. Easter was therefore relegated to second place, with mandatory acknowledgement of its rightful claim to primacy.

Palm Sunday happened, with everyone getting new palm-leaf crosses, but Ash Wednesday was too Catholic; I’m still not sure what you were supposed to do with last year’s cross. Mothering Sunday was religiously observed, with every assumed-female person over the age of about twelve having flowers pressed on them on the way into church, whether they would or no, and I’m not resentful of that yearly misgendering and discomfort why would you ever think that? And then we had Easter, with occasional party games, inferior carolling opportunities, and chocolate eggs, which were the important bit.

The summer was mainly a dead time, filled in with beach missions and summer camps and later on Soul Survivor, and then came the awkward festival of Harvest. Harvest is a good time for about a week, but being shamed over donations of tinned peas for a month beforehand rather spoiled the pleasure, and it falls a few weeks too early to be convincing when it’s brought back, zombie-like, as a cover for Halloween.

We did not do Halloween. Halloween was a time of unmitigated evil and Satan corrupting toddlers. We did not participate in any festivities around it, including school events. Instead, we had second-round Harvest events or the even more straightforward Jesus Parties, to shine our little lights against the darkening world. Halloween was terrifying to me as a child. What else could it be, when my experience was of hushed voices and my parents sitting in the dark with the windows shut and commanding us to silence when the doorbell rang? Halloween meant a danger I couldn’t understand, mixed with a pernicious pride that we weren’t falling for that kind of evil fun.

There have got to be better ways not to celebrate something.

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