People should be educated about Christian holidays
FR. SEBASTIAN CAMPBELL
Published: May 16, 2013
The root word to holiday is holy-day. It’s a time off solemnity yet great rejoicing. Holiday then is the observance of a holy day, a day of supreme significance. Christians must protect these days and see them as monuments of the faith, for all times to come. They lend themselves to being opportunities for teaching the faith. When our children ask why the holiday, we should be able to expound on its history and significance. Tragic, though, many adults have not been schooled into the significance of these milestones, therefore the ignorance that prevails in this circle of our national religious and even non-religious observances that have been raised to the status of holidays.
A national educational campaign is an intentional effort that must be launched in the education of our people so as to shatter this darkness of ignorance. Because we do not know it, we might lose it. No wonder uninformed politicians, who are church-goers, can advance from the floor of Parliament that we should trade off the Whit Monday holiday so as to give room for Majority Rule Day. Yet this did not evoke the wrath of the church leaders. One reason why it didn’t raise religious wrath is because of ignorance even in church leadership. I am surprised at the things the Christian Council remains silent on. Even in the height of our campaign for National Heroes holiday, a member of Parliament offered the suggestion to trade in Whit Monday, as he expressed agreement for a national heroes holiday. We cannot destroy sacred monuments in our society, as a Christian nation, and yet expect to uphold Christian values as our guiding principle as a nation that has entrenched Christianity in the preamble to our constitution.
I have seen the danger of this encroachment in the United States — a nation claiming to be Christian. My adjustment in working as a rector/pastor in Florida in the 1980s was hampered because of this very same issue. I could not fathom how the Jews were able to be so adamant in the celebrations of their holy days and the Christians were not. The Jews stood up to every threat to their monuments of faith simply by refusing to work on their holy days. The wider society had to acknowledge this thus forcing the holidays of Jewish observance. They simply stood up and educated their people thus winning, through education, the entire society. Weak Christians lacked the fortitude to stand up even for the supreme day of the faith, Easter. Good Friday is an ordinary working day. How was I to observe these days within the context of a society that was so secular as it related to Christianity. There were Good Friday services early in the morning, or at lunch hour or in the evening. Ridiculous to have said that Easter day itself, a Sunday was to be seen as the holiday. That’s what happens when Christian people lack backbone, are silent when they should be in the trenches of action.
Easter is the queen of all festivals in the Christian Faith. Without it, no other observance makes sense — not even Christmas. Paul puts it in such appropriate terms: “If Christ be not raised from the dead, then our hope of life is in vain, our faith is in vain.”
Because of Easter we have the supreme hope of life after death. Good Friday is the lead-up to Easter. A day of tragedy resulting in death out of which comes the good of the faith that is celebrated at Easter. Maundy Thursday precedes Good Friday. “Maundy” is Latin for command Thursday.
On this day, Christ gives two commands indispensable to the Christian faith — love one another and break bread and share the cup as the medium whereby his presence is to be kept alive within the faith community. Wonderful to have our schools closed on this day, but the education that accompanies this ought to be hammered home. Now it has lost its significance and the whole thing is simply seen as a long holiday weekend. We will only save it from being extinct through educating a whole community, especially our teachers and students alike.
Deuteronomy cautions, “Teach it for all times to come.” I attended St. John’s College, one of our Anglican high schools that gave the entire Holy Week off as a holiday. It was only because of this that the message of its significance was entrenched in my psyche. I have never lost it. The church school did its job to indoctrinate us through this observance and its accompanying education. Good to know that this wonderful tradition continues.
Thursday, May 9, was the feast of Ascension. In many Christian countries this day is a holiday specifically — I can speak to England and Belize. Thursday being a holiday implies that Friday will be encroached upon, so it becomes a long holiday weekend every year. I fail to understand how this day was not put in our package of holidays at the beginning of time. Recently, too, the Christian world celebrated the feast of Corpus Christi (Latin for the body of Christ). It serves to reinforce the message of Maundy Thursday that is critical to our keeping true to the remembrance of Christ within the Christian community. In some countries, like Trinidad, this day is observed as a holiday. Indeed we can learn much from Trinidad that has more religious holidays than anywhere else in our region.
Pentecost, commonly called Whitsunday marks the birthday of the church, the day Christianity made its entry into the world with such great power and might that it rocked the Jewish world — so much so that they were said to be drunk. The first Christian sermon was preached by Peter and the church expanded by 3,000 — people who were initiated into the Christian faith through the waters of baptism.
The Greek word Pentecost refers to the fiftieth day, defining the time after the season of the Pascha (Easter) when Pentecost, one of the pilgrim festivals of the old covenant, celebrated the wheat harvest. It was the Jewish harvest festival when thousands of pilgrims gathered for celebration in Jerusalem. It was on this festival day (Jewish holiday) the disciples experienced the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit. The Christian Pascha, which commemorated the cross and the resurrection, was completed on the festival of Pentecost when the power of the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples. Pentecost was the birthday of the church as the new Israel of God. It’s the greatest defining moment in initiating the Christian faith.
Pentecost becomes Whitsuntide only because it became a day set aside for baptisms. After due preparation baptismal candidates, all dressed in white baptismal gowns paraded to the water for this rite of initiation, their birthday into faith. The day was nicknamed White-Sunday. Somewhere along the lines of history white was shortened as the “e” was clipped thus leaving the term to stand as whit and therefore Whit-Sunday. The whole week was eventually referred to as Whit-sun-tide. Each day within the week was prefaced by Whit and therefore Whit Monday was the day singled out for the holiday to celebrate for all times to come this singular great defining moment within Christianity. It is a celebration in all Christian countries.
We celebrate then this monument as a Christian nation, the birthday of the church. At Sunday school, the late Archdeacon Murrillo Bonaby drove the point home by having a birthday party – complete with a birthday cake and drinks. What a great medium of education. I always insist in decorating the church birthday style for this occasion. We must be creative in our approach as we lift this important milestone and teach it for all times to come. Thank God for our wonderful Christian heritage. Join our campaign and let us be entrenched our faith as we celebrate these great pillars of hope.
• Fr. Sebastian Campbell is rector at St. Gregory’s Anglican Church.