Well, for most of us, the holidays are over, and it is back to the humdrum workaday life. Other than because we like them, why do we have holidays? Don't you get a weekend every week? Why should you have more time off? (I'm sure there are company owners all over the place asking that very question – but those are not the issues I am going into here!) Holidays make us feel good. On my breaks, I do a number of things. I have in the last few years journeyed back into one of the joys of my childhood, the making of Airfix models of fighter planes. I also love to read and paint.
All these pass-times of mine have one common factor – while you are doing them, the rest of the world retreats into the background. These pursuits require your whole attention, so the rest of your life has to sit quietly somewhere else while you occupy yourself in gluing part 54 to part 55 to make the accurate fuselage assembly, or carefully mixing up exactly the right shade of ultramarine blue with a tinge of green and applying it just so to the canvas. Of course, reading means you can depart from the real world and immerse your mind in whatever exotic existence the author has created for you, and thrill to the adventures unrolled by the novelist's art.
So, while I am actually occupied by something, it is beautifully restful, because it puts on hold all the things of usual daily life that tire you out and use up your energies all the other times. By giving your time to these activities, your 'turn off' the exhausting duties of the rest of the year. And don't you feel refreshed when you do! Well, I do anyway! So, is holiday just a way to make us feel better? I'm pretty sure that's a good enough reason for most people, but actually, that is not where it all began.
The word holiday goes right back to Anglo-Saxon English of the 5th to 6th century with the words 'halig daeg' (literally holy day), meaning a day reserved for religious worship, for which the normal daily work was put aside to allow all people to dedicate the day to religious festivities. This was so much a part of community life, even that far back, the two words became one, haligdaeg, which over the following 15 centuries became the word 'holiday' we know today.
Again in old English, these 'holy days' were more commonly called 'feasts' which goes back through Latin to a word meaning to celebrate or be joyous. Since so often, this celebration would include a whole village or community joining together in a special community meal, which could include dancing and story-telling related to the holy event or saint being celebrated, we get the meaning we give to the word 'feast' today of a sumptuous meal.
The Christian Church had three types of feast: the most common was every Sunday. Now, most people think we do not work on Sunday because it is the Old Testament Sabbath, marking the seventh day of Creation, on which God rested having created the world on the previous six days. No, that is the Jewish Sabbath, which is on Saturday. The Church, from Apostolic times in the first century, declared Sunday a Feast Day, because we celebrate that Jesus' resurrection occurred on that day. In the year 321, the Emperor Constantine proclaimed that all Sundays should be a public holiday, and so was the inventor of the weekend. You may wish to remember him in your prayers!
The next type of Feast was the Moveable Feast. The most important of these was Easter, which, as we know, moves up and down the calendar through its link to the Paschal full moon. If you did not understand that was why Easter is a different day each year, look, it's all too complex to go into here – grab me sometime and I'll explain it to you. Then of course, Lent, Good Friday, Ascension, Pentecost and Holy Trinity are all tied to Easter, and so move up and down with it. So they are 'moveable' feasts.
Then the final group are the Immoveable Feasts. I bet you guessed it – they are the ones, such as Christmas, Epiphany and Saints Days that fall on the same calendar date every year. Only a few of these actually date earlier than the fourth century. Christmas was not really being generally celebrated until the sixth century, and even then, on a number of different days in different churches.
One thing remains true for them all though. They were not about having a day off work, as I feel most people think of holidays today. They were about taking a day out of your time to praise and thank God for blessing us. In the immediate sense, for the good things in our lives and the world around us. But as you can see in the survey above, for the most part they originated in the desire to thank God for the moment Jesus arose from the dead. In that moment, Jesus established the great Gospel of Christianity – Death was conquered so that our lives can take us, if we follow him, to the eternal and perfect life God wants to share with us.
In ancient times, Christians saw that as a thing worth putting your daily work aside for, and fixing your gaze for the moment on it. To celebrate the fact of it and sing out your thanks and praise to God for it. To join joyously with your family, friends and neighbours and share the exhilaration of knowing it.
So that is why we have holidays. We can still have the sleep in, the beaches and barbeques, the roast animals of great variety with all the trimmings and side dishes, and I am keeping my Airfix models (I already have a Dambusters Lancaster ready for my mid-year break).
But while we are immersing ourselves in all that recreation and rest, remember to give thanks to the one that gave it all to you, to the God that waits to give you the “Peace that the world cannot give.”
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Ven Bill Beagley
reflections and occasional thoughts (appearing in the Parish newsletter)