Lost Holidays

Holidays are always better with a little bit of “did you know?” And one of the best “did you know?”s is what happens when holidays or parts of holidays go missing.

It’s a pretty simple process. Some parts of a holiday have more ritual associated with them than other parts, and people tend to remember those. Or there are parts people just plain have more fun with. Sometimes, particularly with religious holidays, there are parts that don’t necessarily accompany the religion portion, and end up being appropriated by the more secular neighbors of those who celebrate them.

As you can probably guess from my choosing today to write about it, Christmas is practically dripping with lost holiday elements.

First, there’s when the holiday is celebrated. Functionally, the Christmas season is supposed to begin on Christmas Day, and continue for twelve days. But somehow, we’re hearing Christmas music as early as Thanksgiving (believe you me, four hours of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” when you’re fogged into an airport on Thanksgiving morning is no picnic, but that’s another story) and seeing decorations and ads and all that good stuff right up until the 25th, at which point they all disappear. Three guesses who’s responsible for that one, right?

Overall, it’s a season issue. Merchant-types are very good at leading up to endings—raising excitement, pushing sentiment, making everything bigger and bigger and more and more—and then bringing everything to a stop so they can start pushing the next big day. We see it with Halloween (speaking of lost holidays, Halloween was originally just an evening-before celebration. Who here remembers All Saints’ Day—or should I say, All Hallows’ Day?), and with Thanksgiving, and with Valentine’s Day and the parents’ days and all those holidays you buy things for. But Christmas beginning its season makes things really awkward for the merchant model, so what do they do? They ignore it, and everyone follows them.

Speaking of which, remember the twelve days of Christmas? As you’ve probably guessed from the prior comment, they aren’t really supposed to begin on the thirteenth and go to the twenty-fifth. Instead, they start on Christmas Day and go until the sixth of January.

And speaking of that sixth day of January, it’s a missing holiday in its own right, something even a lot of churchgoers don’t realize. Does Epiphany ring any bells? You didn’t think everything happened on Christmas night, now, did you?

This missing holiday is a case of the ritual factor. Aside from the churches, nobody’s entirely sure what to do with Epiphany. It’s big in the liturgical calendar—in fact, Epiphany, or what is now Epiphany, was the Christian winter holiday before Christmas was. Even now, there are a lot of places that still celebrate it: in France, it begins the Mardi Gras season; in Spain and several countries colonized thereby (including the Philippines, Mexico and Argentina), that’s the day in which people leave footwear (shoes this time) overnight for presents….  But most of the people I see forget about it, even the churchgoers; I mainly know because my parents’ old college buddies would always hold a feast around that time.

Interesting, isn’t it? Do you have anything to add to any of the missing holidays, or your own things to which this can be applied?

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