Monday, November 1, 2010


In the U.K., "holidays" in the plural usually refers to what we would call a vacation. There are School Holidays, Summer Holidays, Winter Holidays, and so forth. Here in the US, the meaning is usually narrower. When you ask someone if they have plans for the holidays, it tends to mean Christmastide, maybe the period up to and including New Year's Eve, and possibly even Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November).

Public Holidays in the UK are called "Bank Holidays". As Wikipedia notes, "There is no automatic right to time off on these days, although the
majority of the population not employed in essential services receive them as holidays; those employed in essential services
usually receive extra pay for working on these days."

Originally, a "holiday" was indeed a "Holy Day", commemorating a religious feast day. Few of these remain as secular "days off" ; in the UK, until relatively recently, "Whit Monday" was a Bank Holiday, being the day after Whit Sunday (Pentecost). .

Good Friday is a holiday for most folk in the UK. Generally, it is used to make a four-day break, with Easter Monday being a Bank Holiday.

In the US, Good Friday is a working day for most employed people. I remember my surprise in 1958, when I spent my first Good Friday in San Francisco. One could take three hours off in the middle of the working day, because many churches, particularly (but not exclusively) RC places of worship, offered a Three Hour Service, from noon to three p.m., the traditional hours when Jesus is said to have been nailed to the Cross. We were not released until the hour of twelve, so office workers who went to church arrived late and left early, to be back at their desks by three. It was evident that not everyone fasted or went to church: the bars did a roaring trade, and not much work was done between three and the hour of release. It has always seemed to me a defective system.

My parish church has three services on Good Friday: usually at 7 a.m., the three-hour service at noon, and an evening liturgy at 7:30 p.m. A Frequently Asked Question is "Why Good Friday? What was good about the day of crucifixion?" Far-fetched explanations point out that it was ultimately good for humankind that Jesus died for our transgressions, but English is the only major language to use the adjective "good". It has probably arisen from confusion with "God". (We say "goodbye" when friends leave, but most folk don't realize that this is a corruption of the pious "God be with ye".)

Most offices now close on the day after Thanksgiving, making it more feasible to turn it into a time to visit out-of-town family. There is a tradition that one takes children to "Grandma's House" for the Thanksgiving meal. I attend church on Thanksgiving, knowing that it was originally a harvest festival, to give thanks to the Almighty for successful crops, though now a largely secular occasion.

American children, adolescents, and adults young in years or spirits, treat Halloween as a holiday, although it isn't usually a day off work. I remember how shocked the parents of my best friend were, when they visited the US one autumn in the forties, and hordes of children came to their hosts' home, shouting gleefully "Trick or Treat!", and demanding candy.  Most revelers don't realize that the name comes from it being the day before November 1, and thus the eve of All Saints' Day: All Hallows' Eve.

An important "non-holiday" in the UK is November 5, "Guy Fawkes Day",
when fireworks and "bonfires" (where permitted) celebrate, to the
delight of young and not-so-young.

November 2 is All Souls' Day; as "The Day of the Dead", it is a major celebration for Latinos.It is a Lesser Feast in my Church's calendar, whereas All Saints' Day is a Major Feast. It isn't moveable, but in our current Book of Common Prayer, there's the very practical rule that the day can also be celebrated on the Sunday following. That will happen this year at St. Mark's, when we shall also be baptizing the newest family member, Holden James Clifford, son of Justine Lewis and Joe Clifford.

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