Friday, September 17, 2010

But . . . what does it MEAN?

This morning I went out to the front of my house and put up my American flag. Why? Today (September 17) is a relatively new, and little-known national holiday: Constitution Day (established in 2004). It commemorates the ratification of the US Constitution on this day in 1787 and is, therefore, one of the dozen or so days to display the flag. Constitution Day is supposed to be observed by educational institutions that receive any federal funding - the observation to heighten awareness, and understanding, of one of our country's foundational documents.

It is one of many holidays/holy-days that this September seems to offer. That fact has been very obvious to me as I've listed the upcoming days-of-observance in the side-bar below for the last several weeks. Just about every religious tradition has had at least one September holiday this year, and some traditions have had mutliple feasts/fasts/festivals. And I'm often asked how important some of them are. I don't always know -- not being a member of most of those traditions. But I suspect that, for those within the tradition, those holidays DO have importance --- although, over time, that importance might fade.

September 11th is not a national holiday in the United States. For the last eight years, however, it has become a sort of national holy-day. And clearly the debate over the "Ground Zero Mosque" has claimed that the site of the World Trade Center is now "hallowed ground." Something about that day, and that place, has acheived civil-religious status. And so I was a bit disturbed, in the week heading up to 9/11, to hear an advertisement for laser-surgery: "In honor of 9/11, we're going to give a 50% discount for laser eye surgery to first responders." Now I believe that first-responders should have really good eyesight! But this company's decision to capitalize on the horrific occurrences of that day seems . . . "insensitive" doesn't quite capture it for me! "Honor 9/11! Spend money!"

Maybe such crass commercialization is inevitable. How many of our other holidays/holy-days have become little more than opportunities for the market to prosper? Or, how many of our holidays/holy-days have become little more than another opportunity to take time off of work. Memorial Day? Labor Day? Veteran's Day? President's Day? All "big sales" days. The parades on some of those days are declining in participation and attendance. In another vein, a Facebook friend wondered why the Lifetime cable channel, on Labor Day, was running a movie marathon about women having children, rather than one about the triumphs of laborers/labor activists? Do we KNOW why we celebrate holidays any more? Do we want to know?

Religious leaders of almost every tradition bemoan the low attendance at regular services, while the "big days" have packed houses. Christianity, especially in the west, has lost control of Christmas: it's the biggest shopping season of the year, and a federal holiday. I remember reading last year about Ramadan in some middle-eastern countries: basically the day was reversed, and people would sleep while the sun was up, and party, party, party between sundown and sunrise. The effective meaning of the holy month was lost, as has been (for some) the effective meaning of Christmas.

I was listening to a podcast last week, and the speaker was talking about the importance of holidays. But the importance was NOT found in what we receive from the holiday (like time off, or more presents), but rather how we are FORMED by the holiday; what the holiday says about who we are as a people (whether nationally, or religiously, defined). The market's take-over of our holidays/holy-days, and our capitulation to that takeover, should raise questions about how we are now being formed. Do we like those answers?

Numerous religious and national holidays fall between now and the end of the academic quarter. I'm going to try to understand what they really mean . . . beyond another opportunity to visit Walmart. Interested in joining me?



1 comment:

  1. A nice commentary, Chaplain Brower. In one class today, we talked about the difference between the view of human nature in the Age of Enlightenment and that in today's Age of the Rational Actor. For so many, it seems that our highest purpose is to make "rational choices" through a constant weighing of material costs and benefits, whether it's going to school or taking a walk in the park. Certainly students have to consider the job market while they're in school. At the same time, I always hope they can encounter a creative and spiritual awakening along the way.
    Lynn Holland