The Christian Liturgical Year: an opportunity for outreach
Christmas and Easter have become so overloaded with frenetic intensity that, especially for unchurched families, they can become unrewarding days of stress and conflict that leave folk still hungering for some sense of meaning. Their hunger is an opportunity for Christian to reclaim traditional holidays from Christian history that we can share to help meet their need for spiritual meaning, with Christ as the focal point of every tradition we restore. For the sake of those we serve, we must exhume our traditions out of history, and offer them to our world!
The most significant historical holidays in addition to Easter and Christmas are Candlemas (February 2), Ladymas (March 25), Roodmas (May 3), Pentecost, StJeanmas (June 24), Lammas (August 1), Michaelmas (September 29), Hallowmas (November 1). In mediaeval times, these holidays enjoyed all the characteristics that make the difference between an unobserved “Holy Day” and a beloved holiday: public worship; story-telling; familiarity, tradition and nostalgia; shared community activities and a shared understanding of symbols; gift-giving, and special foods. Nowadays, these holidays’ traditions are no longer observed and are largely forgotten. But we can select, prayerfully, what traditions to reintroduce and how to reintroduce them in a way that reaches out to meet our neighbourhood’s spiritual needs.
Different traditional customs are documented for each of these, and most of those traditions can be re-cast in a modern setting, particularly as outreach events. We do need to recognize that offering such events will demand considerable commitment on the part of Emmanuel’s people. We may well need to persist through two or three years of sparse attendance, to give the events time to catch on. But we can also expect considerable rewards, as these Holy Days’ traditions are inherently fun and meaningful. And we can expect to see Emmanuel grow as a church only if we are sincere in our commitment to outreach.
To avoid taking on too much to soon, a modest proposal is presented, of adding two Holy-day celebrations to our calendar in 2007. The first of these, a Roodmas/Rogation celebration featuring a gardening lecture, plant-exchange and Maypole dance, is driven by the urgency of reaching out to new families moving in to the condominiums down the road. The second of these, a Lammas/Michaelmas celebration in late August, is driven by the need to reconnect with our Vacation Bible School families as they are returning from vacation and making their plans for the new school year. In subsequent years we would need to persist in offering these two events to allow attendance to build up, and might consider adding additional events to our schedule.
A number of questions remain. Will these events actually appeal to the people of our neighbourhood? If we don’t make the effort to offer such events, we will never know. Do these events speak deeply enough of Emmanuel’s Christian heritage, that we can succeed in making them meaningful for unchurched people? And most of all, are we truly willing to put significant effort into reaching out to draw others to Jesus?
The Christian Liturgical Year: an opportunity for outreach 1
The Christian Liturgical Year: an opportunity for outreach 2
Holidays and Seasons 3
Holidays and Seasons 3
From “Holy Day” to “Holiday”? 4
From “Holy Day” to “Holiday”? 4
The Spiritual Dimension: Public Worship 4
The Historic Dimension: Tradition and Nostalgia 5
The Community Dimension: Shared Symbols and Activities 5
The Carnal dimension: Special Food! 6
The Christian Year 6
The Christian Year 6
Christmas (December 25) 6
Candlemas (February 2 – a Saturday in 2008 6
A Candlelight Procession 7
Ladymas (March 25 – a Tuesday in 2008) 7
Lady-Day Faire 7
Maundy Thursday Agape Meal 8
Good Friday Fasting and Hot-cross Buns 8
Easter Eve Campfire and Bedtime-stories 8
Roodmas (May 3) and Rogation Day 9
The Blessing of the Gardens 9
StJohnmas (June 24) 10
Lammas (August 1) 10
An End-of-Summer Garden Party 10
Michaelmas (September 29) 10
Hallowmas (November 1) 11
A Children’s Hallowe’en/Harvest Party 11
Holidays and Seasons
Christmas and Easter: that’s the whole tally of Christian holidays, for most of us – two days a year to celebrate the whole story of creation and salvation that we try to live out for 365 days of the year. For our ancestors, much wiser than we, those two days were only the brightest and best of a whole annual pattern of celebration and remembrance. For us, those two days have to support all the frenetic intensity of family obligation and consumerism that our ancestors spread over a dozen or more high holy-days. And so, especially for unchurched families, Easter and Christmas become unrewarding days of stress and conflict that leave folk emotionally depleted and still hungering for some sense of meaning. Easter and Christmas need to be redeemed, by restoring them to their proper place within a larger set of holy-days and celebrations.
God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years”1. One or the other of God’s two great lights: the Sun or the Moon, typically defines a calendar: our western “Gregorian” calendar is based on the Sun’s cycle, for example, while the middle-eastern calendar of Islamic countries is based on the Moon’s cycle. Both the solar and the lunar cycle combine to determine the holy days of the Christian Year, as is well illustrated by the two holy-days whose popular celebration still survives, Christmas and Easter.
The Sun’s cycle is defined by the axial tilt of the Earth. As Earth circles the Sun, its axial tilt results in summer with its longer days, and then winter with its shorter days. The longest day and the shortest day are obviously special, as are the two equinoxes half-way between. Our celebration of the shortest day of the year survives as Christmas2. The ancient church also had St Johnmas on the shortest night (June 24), and Ladymas (March 25) and Michaelmas (September 29) on the two equinoxes. In between each of these seasonal holy-days, the ancient church celebrated “cross-over” days: Candlemas (February 2), Roodmas (May 3), Lammas (August 1) and Hallowmas (November 1).
The Moon’s cycle is defined by the waxing and waning of the moon as it goes from new moon to first quarter to full moon to third quarter to the dark of the moon. The phase of the moon determines the timing of Easter according to the following rule: Easter is the first Sunday after the first new moon after the spring equinox3. Easter in turn determines the timing of Pentecost, which is fifty days after Easter4, and Ash Wednesday, which is forty days before Easter5.
In addition to these ancient holy-days written, as it were, by God Himself in the great lights of Creation, numerous “Saints’ Days” were celebrated by the medaeival. Some of these Saints’ Days honoured the Apostles and other biblical saints whose witness points persistently to Christ, but many overemphasised spurious saints and distracted from Christ. As we seek to reclaim for God the holiness of passing time, Christ must be the focal point of every tradition we restore.
Our ancient Holy tradition of faith, then, gives us a wealth of nine seasonal holidays over the commercialised and secularised two. Such wealth can only have one proper use – to use it and expend it on God’s work in the world. God’s work sends us out to serve our city’s an unchurched families and young adults, who often dabble in alternative traditions and new religions for the allure of their imported or made-up symbols and rituals. Those rituals are empty of grace, and can never satisfy such seekers; but in contrast the Church’s rich historical traditions celebrate the ultimate grace of our salvation. But can seekers find those traditions in our church? Or, only in our history? For the sake of those we serve, we must exhume our traditions out of history, and offer them to our world!
From “Holy Day” to “Holiday”?
Easter and Christmas are unquestionably holidays. But on our Church Calendars they are recorded as “Holy Days” – as are Candlemas and Michaelmas and many other holy days that most people, especially unchurched people, have never heard of. What have Christmas and Easter got going for them, that those other holy days don’t have?
Maybe, the characteristics that make Easter and Christmas special can be named, and then made more general. Human nature being universal, they will be the same characteristics that make other holidays like Passover or Chinese New Year successful – and they will be lacking in holidays like “Heritage Day” and “Labour Day” that manifest as a day off work and nothing more. Once identified, those same characteristics could be “custom-tailored” for each of the holy days that we want to reclaim. So, what are the characteristics of a holiday?
The Spiritual Dimension: Public Worship
Unique and focused worship services are always a part of Easter and Christmas. In theory, pecial services focusing on their commemorations – usually several. In theory, special services exist for many of the other Holy Days on our Calendar, but they are often ignored or have fallen into disuse, even in more centralized churches that have church rules supposedly requiring that such services be held. Easter and Christmas services are easily scheduled with the expectation that the statutory holiday will leave the people free to attend worship. Services for other holidays will have to be scheduled in the evening or transferred to an adjacent weekend, in order to offer people the opportunity to attend.
In the case of events meant to reach out to the community, Mary Green has strongly recommended holding the events outside the church building proper. She has noticed that outdoor event attract far more people than do indoor events. Our unchurched neighbours are often unfamiliar with churches in general and uncomfortable going into such an unfamiliar place. And, of course, passers-by cannot tell what kind of event is going on if all they see is cars in the parking lot. If as they drive or walk by they see crowds celebrating, they are more likely to join in to the current event, or perhaps the next event.
If we accept Mary’s recommendation, then worship associated with these events should be truly public – held out of doors along with the event. It should be short, up-beat, and highly targeted on the Christian tradition being celebrated. It should avoid “churchy” buzzwords, but we should not be hesitant about showing off our symbols or spirituality: these, after all, are what our neighbours hunger for. But any symbols we use in such outreach worship should be explained. Being “in the know” about symbols and traditions creates a sense of belonging, which may in time encourage these neighbours to cross the threshold of the church building itself.
A brief out-door worship service can create a focus for whatever event we hold. In the wall-less venue of our parking lot, such a focus is necessary to keep people from drifting back out onto the sidewalk and pathways and drifting away. A certain concentration of social energy must be maintained to keep any event going. So a Master of Ceremonies of some kind – with a public address system -- is needed. The MC’s job is to gather together all the visitors to the event, let them know what is going on and what’s expected, and create a sense of hospitality. The public worship should fit into the event plan as an understate-but-formal way of managing the focus of the event.
Easter and Christmas are all about telling stories. The Christmas pageant and the Maundy foot-washing service and the Christmas pageant tell through drama how Christ was born and how He gave us his “new commandment”. The service of Carols and Lessons tells through reading scripture the story of how Christ’s birth was fortold. The Good Friday reading tells us the whole story of Christ’s betrayal and condemnation.
At home, we read stories like “A Christmas Carol” and watch TV specials that reiterate in a worldly context the stories of the holidays we are participating in. Through stories, we teach one another what these holidays celebrate. Over and over we find ways of communicating “the true meaning” of Christmas and Easter.
If people are to learn the true meaning of other Holy Days, then we must teach those stories. And we must use the most powerful methods of teaching, since the stories are so unfamiliar. Reading aloud from Scripture won’t work in outreach work, in part because we often fail to make the story come alive because of our own awareness that what we are reading is Scripture, in part because Scripture often sounds dated and artificial to unchurched people, and in part because the physical act of reading prevents eye-contact and creates a distance between reader and audience.
Powerful teaching takes the form of drama, of oral story-telling with repetition and with figures of speech tying in to the hearer’s own experience, and of participative activities that illustrate the story. For every event that we put on, one or more forms of powerful storytelling should have a role in the event.
The Historic Dimension: Tradition and Nostalgia
“We’ve done this twice now, so it’s a tradition!” People love to know what is about to happen. They love to feel in touch with their heritage and to be part of something bigger than themselves. They will find themselves drawn more to a “second annual” – or even a “first annual” – event than to the same event that doesn’t include those words. An activity framed with an explanation of its traditional roots has more appeal than the same activity divorced from a traditional explanation. But most of all, an activity that can be remembered from previous years without a gap has more appeal than a novel or sporadic activity. This is why, in many congregations, a special event that is sparsely attended in the first year or two becomes an expected regular event if only the organizers have the persistence to keep it up in the face of limited early participation.
The Community Dimension: Shared Symbols and Activities
The symbols of Easter and Christmas are all around us in society. Even corrupted by materialism, those symbols reinforce our holiday spirit. When our families gather from far-flung destinations to share the celebration with us, that further reinforces our holiday spirit. Nothing touches us so poignantly, as the thought of someone celebrating Christmas alone.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians that they should “remember to practice hospitality.” Even though we cannot expect our relatives to travel home a dozen times a year to celebrate holidays with us, we can invite community members to share activities and meals with us.
In modern culture, gift-giving is almost synonymous with Christmas. But Easter has its Easter baskets too, Hallowe’en has its relatively trivial gifts to the neighbourhood trick-or-treators, and even Valentine’s day has its little cards.
The Carnal dimension: Special Food!
Saint Paul tells us that everything God has given is good, but not necessarily good for us. This duality is often incorporated in successful holidays, by being preceded by a fast or time of abstinence: Easter by Lent, Christmas by Advent, Passover by Rosh Hashanah; Eid by Ramadan. The other half of the duality, of course, are the wonderful distinctive foods that are associated with each holiday: the Easter Ham, the Thanksgiving Turkey, the Christmas Pudding -- foods that are made more special by being reserved for their proper holiday.
The Christian Year
The most significant historical Holy Days in the Christian year -- in addition to Easter and Christmas -- are Candlemas (February 2), Ladymas (March 25), Roodmas (May 3), Pentecost, StJeanmas (June 24), Lammas (August 1), Michaelmas (September 29), Hallowmas (November 1). Some of these days are already celebrated within the family of our church, and may be better opportunities for strengthening new Christians than for reaching out to others – remembering that new Christians, as much as seekers, may yearn for rich symbolic ways to express their new faith. Other days, especially those timed around some shared human experience, may be better for reaching out to the community. We can select, prayerfully, what traditions to reintroduce and how to reintroduce them in a way that best meets the neighbourhood’s spiritual needs.
Christmas (December 25)
The proper name of “Christmas” is “The Nativity of Our Lord”. We do a good job already of attracting the “Christmas and Easter” Christians to church to one of the Christmas Eve services, and the four weeks of Advent with their focus on the Advent Wreath help provide balance to the season. We could do more, by remembering that Christmas itself is twelve days long, and lasts past the first (and sometimes second) Sunday after December 25. These are the days – not the Sundays in Advent – when we appropriately sing Christmas carols and luxuriate in the nostalgia of Christmas past. Why not hold the lovely service of Carols and Lessons routinely on the first or second Sunday in Christmas, and invite our neighbours to share that well-known service while they are still in a nostalgic and church-friendly mood? Or, perhaps, go caroling in the neighbourhood and take the carols and lessons out into the community?
Candlemas (February 2 – a Saturday in 2008
The proper name of “Candlemas” is “The Presentation of Christ in the Temple”. Like Christmas, it is a scriptural feast-day and a “feast of Light”. It celebrates the day, forty days after the birth of their first son, that Mary and Joseph came to the temple to sacrifice two small birds. This was the occasion on which Anna and Simeon prophesied over the Christ-child, and Simeon proclaimed in his famous song that Jesus would be “A light to lighten the Gentiles, And the glory of thy people Israel.” On this day, the ancient church blessed the candles that would be used in worship for the coming year. The people would bring their own candle and light it from the church-candles, to carry “the light of Christ” home to their own homes.
On February 2, I cook a “feast” of two small birds with rice, in a crock-pot or slow oven and invite friends or neighbours to join us for dinner. All the candles in the house are placed on the dining-room table, and all the lights t are turned off. Then after school and work we take candle lanterns, one for each family-member and dinner-guest and go – preferably to church, but since our church to doesn’t hold Candlemas services – to the home of one of our dinner-guests. There, we read the story of the Presentation, pray, and light our candles. From there we process home together, singing hymns about Light and Fire, such as “this little light of mine” and “Revival Fire Fall”. When we get home, we take turns lighting the candles on the dining-table. As each candle is lit, we recite the names of a family or other community group that we are praying for. And when all the candles are lit, we turn on lights, blow out candles, clear and reset the table, and start the feast. Then, of course, we all watch Groundhog Day on DVD.
A Candlelight Procession
The church is a far more appropriate venue for a brief February 2 Service of the Word with candle-lighting. If kept very brief or if the weather is very warm, the service could be held on the Church porch. It might be a good idea to use the service also to rehearse one or two appropriate hymns, since many people may not have such hymns memorized and “on tap”. But just imagine the visual impact on the community, of a little crowd of singing Christians fanning out from the churchyard carrying their candle-lanterns!
Ladymas (March 25 – a Tuesday in 2008)
The proper name of Ladymas is “The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary” – but don’t mistake it as a festival focusing on Mary. What was being announced was the coming of Christ, so this is a festival focused on the Lord himself.
But it’s also in the middle of Lent, at the very end of Winter, at a time when all fresh food is long-since stale or eaten; and the delights of fresh breezes and the occasional birdsong must take the place of riotous feasting. In ancient times craftspeople who had spent the winter at their handwork grasped this first opportunity to travel to find a fair and sell their product, and housewives threw wide the shutters to let out the smell and grime of six months’ peatsmoke; leaving Ladymas associated primarily with market-fairs and spring cleaning.
In our family I’ve set aside “Lady Tarts” -- a special small pastry made of raspberry jam, almond custard, and sweet meringue – as Ladymas’ special food.
In 2008 we see the very unusual situation, where Ladymas falls in Easter week, something that could never have happened prior to the Gregorian calendar reform. When Ladymas falls in either Holy Week or Easter Week, it is traditionally not observed. So, this may be a neighbourhood celebration that we can “phase in” in a subsequent year.
Why not combine the ideas of market-fairs and spring cleaning to hold a neighbourhood garage sale in the parking lot. Invite neighbours to come and set up a card-table, sell their wares and pocket their profits. Church groups could sell bazaar crafts or food. Other church-groups could set up ministry-fair style booths to advertise Sunday School, the coming Vacation Bible School (working mothers do start planning summer out-of-school care as early as march) and so on. Build on the motif of a Lady-Day Faire by having the worship team as modern minstrels, and story-tellers to tell the story of, among other things, just what Lady Day is.
We already have a wonderful celebration of Easter, with our sunrise worship, parish breakfast, and Easter worship. And Easter like Christmas is a day when the church is so full of “Easter-and-Christmas” Christians that we wouldn’t have room for our unchurched neighbours, even if we could persuade them to come in.
However, the traditional Church celebrated Easter nearly continuously from Palm Sunday until Easter. On Wednesday in Holy Week the traditional service of “Tenebrae” is held, dramatically illustrating the growing spiritual darkness as we draw near to Good Friday. On Thursday, a four-part service may be held, starting with the commemoration of Christ’s “New Commandment” which He illustrated by washing the disciples’ feet, then a shared Agape meal recapitulating a Seder meal, then the celebration of the Lord’s Supper that Christ instituted on this day, and finally the stripping of the Altar. On Good Friday is the Way of the Cross and often additional solemn worship. Then on Saturday night is held the a candlelight service called the “Great Vigil of Easter”.
The Saturday-night candlelight service, and our sunrise service on Easter Morning, are actually two ends of the same tradition. In the ancient church, believers would gather on Saturday night to wait together for the promise of Easter. There they would kindle a new fire, light candles from it, and in the quiet candlelight as they kept vigil, they would recount the great stories of God’s saving grace throughout history: of God’s preserving Noah through the flood, of God’s promise to Abraham, of the Exodus, of Isaiah’s prophetic witness to Christ. As the adult believers prayed, retold scriptures, and kept watch; the church’s children dozed or heard the stories that would shape their faith. Finally, as sunrise marked the horizon, new believers would be baptized and the whole congregation would celebrate their Easter communion together.
Maundy Thursday Agape Meal
Emmanuel currently has a Maundy Thursday service, and long-term parishioners recount that we have held an Agape meal in the past. We should consider restoring the custom. Although it is unlikely that unchurched people from the neighbourhood would come for the meal, we could expect it to appeal to new members attracted by other outreach events, and to old members who can always afford to be strengthened by fellowship and by participating in our shared story. A “Christian Seder” is probably not the best choice for such a meal, as it involves considerable work and can be offensive to our Jewish neighbours. A simple candlelight meal of bread and wine, milk and honey, apples and raw-vegetable “herbs” captures the most essential symbols of the Passover story with minimal effort.
Good Friday Fasting and Hot-cross Buns
Fasting is not much taught as a spiritual discipline, at Emmanuel. It is certainly not an appropriate vehicle for outreach! But, as with the Thursday Agape meal, it can be an excellent step in the Christian formation of new and old members. An old tradition is to fast until the end of the Good Friday service, which traditionally lasted a long time, from noon until three in the afternoon. Then at the end of the service, the children at least (and why not the adults, too?) would break their fast on freshly baked hot spicy buns marked with, a reminder of the spices that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took to Jesus’ tomb. Of course, it is much less of a fast if it only lasts until the end of a short morning service. But even so, Emmanuel’s members might well benefit from sound teaching on the value of fasting, some encouragement to fast for even those few hours on Good Friday morning, and a tray of hot buns fresh from Emmanuel’s oven at the end of the Good Friday service.
Easter Eve Campfire and Bedtime-stories
In every culture, stories told around the fire are part of how we transcend our own generation and pass our culture to our children. Could we use this holy night, and the magical allure of the new fire, to pass on our faith to our spiritually hungry neighbours? Could we offer their children an evening of stories around the fire, timed to precede bedtime and accompanied by a cup of hot chocolate?
Roodmas (May 3) and Rogation Day
The proper name for roodmas is “The Exaltation of the Holy Cross”, and it is said to commemorate the date in 326 when workers found a wooden beam claimed to be the True Cross6. But it is more likely that Roodmas was already being celebrated in Northern Europe as a spring sowing festivals, featuring the Maypole. The Maypole is “the tree of life” – which is, after all, exactly what the cross is. A small cross-bar at the top of a Christian Maypole anchors the ribbons to the pole – and reminds us all that the Resurrection has transformed an instrument of brutal death into a beautiful symbol of blessing, life and plenty.
“Rogation” means “solemn prayer”. Rogation Day is the fifth Sunday after Easter, and in pre-industrial times it was traditionally a day of prayer for the harvest, whose seeds should have just been sown. But in Alberta, with our short growing season and late frosts, sowing the harvest cannot move back and forth with the phases of the moon, so the traditional timing of Rogation Day is as meaningless as is, to most people’s vocabulary, the word “Rogation” itself. For that matter, in our highly urban society, most people have forgotten that the harvest needs to be sown and that we eat, come the fall, only at the mercy of our Father.
BUT – especially in our highly urban society, people are healthier when they are in touch with the earth. A disproportionately high number of urbanites are gardeners, if often ineffectual ones.
The Blessing of the Gardens
Canadians have a well-defined day for our gardening, with Victoria Day as a statutory holiday on which to celebrate it7. Right now, our church is seeing new condominiums springing up in the formerly vacant land around us, and new families moving in seeking to set down roots – both literally and figuratively, by starting their first-ever gardens. Many of them may not count established gardeners among their friends, from whom they can expect divisions of established perennials or good advice about what will or won’t grow in Calgary. So why not sponsor a speaker from the Zoo or the horticultural society, to give a short outdoor lecture on “windowbox and small-plot gardening”. Established gardeners could come and trade perennials or cuttings and recycle some old plant-pots; and extras could be given away to new gardeners just starting out. We could ask the pastor to open or close the party with a short service of the Word, and ask God’s blessing on our city’s gardens and our province’s farmlands.
Pentecost commemorates commemorating the day when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the believers. Pentecost means “fifty days”, and occurred as a harvest festival in the Old Testament, fifty days after Passover. For us, its commemoration occurs fifty days after Easter, though unlike the Mediterreanian with its three harvests a year, northern Europe and Canada never see a harvest so early.
Because this is the “birthday of the Church”, its an appropriate day for nurturing our members rather than for outreach. On Pentecost day many congregations encourage members to wear red – for the Fire of the Holy Spirit – and serve birthday cake during coffee. Because the Gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on the first Pentecost, it’s a traditional day for Baptisms and Confirmations, where the Holy Spirit is poured out on new or maturing Christians. From this – and from the tradition of catechumens’ and confirmands’ wearing white – Pentecost is also called “Whitsunday”.
StJohnmas (June 24)
The proper name of StJohnmas (pronounced “SINjinmas”) is “The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist”. In Canada, particularly Quebec, it has been celebrated as a national festival; but traditionally it was celebrated as a counterpoint to Christmas, like the modern “Christmas in July” celebrations that have sprung up in recent years.
In counterpoint to Christmas when the family gathers indoors around their Christmas Tree, at StJeanmas the family gathers outdoors around a bonfire. An important feature is to be able to offer refreshment and hospitality to passers-by. Our family bakes bannock on sticks over an open fire – wrapped in bacon for an extra treat!.
Lammas (August 1)
The proper name of Lammas is “The Feast of First Fruits”. This is the first of three harvest-thanksgiving feasts from Northern Europe. Of the eight traditional solar-cycle feasts, it is the only one that makes no effort to commemorate any event from Our Lord’s life: it is a pure harvest thanksgiving, timed to the very beginning of harvest, as berries and small fruits begin to become available.
Our Saskatoon bushes and non-king cherries dutifully come ripe on this day; and we celebrate with a “lammas pudding” for dessert, made of bread stuffed with fresh berries molded and chilled, and then served with whipped cream.
Gardens are generally at their best and in full bloom by this time, so a garden-party is an appropriate Lammas-day celebration. It could be combined with “Heritage Day” and take advantage of the Heritage Day statutory holiday. Why not celebrate our overtly Christian heritage? We could go further, and showcase the Danish, German, Norwegian and Swedish traditions that enrich our Lutheran form of Christianity. By advertising a “Heritage Day Garden Party” to our secular neighbours, we would be taking advantage of the shared experience of Heritage Day simultaneously being advertised for other city events.
An End-of-Summer Garden Party
But in Calgary, many families are away on vacation and August is our “lazy time”, when few people are interested in making the effort to attend organized events, and Mary Green has suggested that what we really need is an event just as school is starting back up, to reconnect with our Vacation Bible School families as they return from summer vacation. So, another option would be to combine Lammas with Michaelmas and have a garden-party half-way between the two, drawing in traditions from both historic holy days.
Michaelmas (September 29)
The proper name of Michaelmas is “The Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels”. This is the second harvest festival, marking the end of the grain harvest and the start of the large fruits and winter-vegetable harvest. What it commemorates, however, is the victory in heaven of Michael and all Angels over the great beast that was cast out of heaven. In mediaeval church art, the Archangel Michael is often shown with a wounded dragon at his feet.
Michaelmas (pronounced “mikklemas”), falling at the autumn equinox, is counterpoint to Ladymas. It’s the traditional start to the school term in England, and in mediaeval times also often featured a fall Harvest faire; and mummery or guising. Guising involved dressing up as saints and biblical characters to travel from house to house putting on miniature passion plays, and was a sophisticated form of begging.
Our family’s Michaelmas tradition features a large dragon-shaped apple pie. We support our angelic heavely allies in their war upon the dragon by biting it with our teeth and digesting it in our bellies, in support of our allies in heaven. We have a box of special dress-up clothes that come out only for Michaelmas, and the children are encouraged to produce an impromptu play dramatizing the story of the War in the Heavenlies or some other scriptural theme.
One congregation I know put on a “Mediaeval Banquet” for several years. This was a full-dinner ticketed event with food and entertainment styled on the twelfth century and full of good fun. The props from the event are still around and have been shared since by other churches putting on their own version of the events. Although it takes considerable effort, a Mediaeval Banquet would be an excellent way for a congregation to showcase Michaelmas while having a great deal of fun.
Hallowmas (November 1)
“Hallow” means “Holy”, or “Saint”; and Hallowmas is better known to us “All Saints Day”. Its Eve is better-known still, as Hallowe'en. The Hallowe'en theme of ghosties and dead spirits recognizes, however coarsely, that all the departed saints continue to be with us within the communion of saints. In North America, we have borrowed the custom of guising -- including the door-to-door begging that accompanied mediaeval guising – from Michaelmas. Guising isn’t originally a Hallowmas custom, and we’ve certainly lost the scriptural focus of mediaeval guising! Alas, we have also lost any sense of commemorating the Saints and instead allowed a vulgar focus on gore and the macabre to take over the day. The secularization of Hallowe’en is an urgent warning of what might happen to that other most beloved holiday were we to fail at keeping the “Christ” in “Christmas”. Let’s put the “Hallow” back in “Hallowe’en”.
Anything that commemorates the faithful departed -- whether ancient Saints whom you revere, or recent saints who are dear at a more personal level, is a good celebration of All Saints. We can bake and share family recipes that were specialties of now-dead relatives. We can take some flowers or flowerseeds to tend some of the abandoned graves in the old graveyard by the Stampede grounds.
A Children’s Hallowe’en/Harvest Party
At the same time, a growing trend in the inner cities is for children to attend safe Hallowe’en or parties (in fundamentalist churches often called “fall harvest” parties in opposition to the “pagan” roots they misperceive in Halloween). Trick-or-treating is a dwindling custom in many neighbourhoods. If children are going to abandon trick-or-treating in favour of indoor parties anyway, Emmanuel may be well advised to invite our neighbourhood children to a party here. Certainly Hallowe’en is another holiday where we can take advantage of our culture’s existing strong shared symbols, while restoring the Christian understanding of "All Saints”.
Our church is well located to attract neighbourhood families to special events several times a year. Such events could draw on Christian tradition to centre around the life of Our Lord, while speaking into the every-day experience of secular and unchurched Calgarians. Many of these traditions being unfamiliar to Emmanuel, we should move slowly and patiently, adding only one or two such events to our repertoire each year, until we are fully celebrating the Church Year and sharing those celebrations with our neighbours. A full cycle of Holy-Day celebrations might comprise:
a Candlemas Procession,
a Lady-Day Faire,
a combined Roodmas/Rogation festival,
a StJohnmas: Christmas-in-June party,
a combined Lammas/Michaelmas festival, perhaps if the “Lady-Day Faire” is successful, done as a Michaelmas faire
a Hallowmas/Reformation festival, and
additional balancing outreach at Christmas (Carols and Lessons in the community)
additional balancing outreach at Easter (Easter Eve stories and campfire)
These special Holy-day celebrations, which would be new to Emmanuel, cannot be launched all at once. They should be added a couple each year, and then maintained from year to year to create a sense of expectation, both in the neighbourhood and in the Emmanuel community. Some immediate needs may drive which events we choose to resource first: the new condominiums North of the church are filling with new families that have never before gardened, and our Vacation Bible School this summer is expected to bring us new families that we will want to try to re-engage with some event prior to the start of school in the fall.
A number of questions remain. Will these Holy Days actually appeal to the people of our neighbourhood? If we don’t make the effort to offer such events, we will never know. Do these events speak deeply enough of Emmanuel’s Christian heritage, that we can succeed in making them meaningful for unchurched people? And most of all, are we truly willing to put significant effort into reaching out to draw others to Jesus?
1 Genesis 1:14; NIV
2 At least, December 25 USED to be on the solstice. The calendar has been shifted by three days due to the the Gregorian calendar reform
3 Prior to the Gregorian reform, Easter was the first Sunday after the first new moon after Ladymas. When the calendar was shifted Ladymas remained on March 25, but the calculation of Easter shifted along with the calendar to March 21.
4 Counting both Easter Day and Pentecost Day as part of the 50
5 Not counting Sundays as part of the 40
6 A related holiday is Holy Cross Day on September 14, when the Basilica housing the purported “True Cross” was consecrated.
7 I suppose Americans could use Memorial Day in the same way.
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