Holidays of the State

(Since Canada Day was Sunday-observed-Monday, and Independence Day is today, some thoughts….)

Here in Massachusetts (and in Maine, which as formerly Massachusetts shares a few historical quirks), there is a holiday called Patriots’ Day on the third Monday in April. The original observance was 19 April, the anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord, which were the first in the American Revolutionary War. It is a day off for a lot of people; the Red Sox always play at home, and there has at least been an attempt to time the baseball game to get out around when the Boston Marathon – also held that day – is going through Kenmore Square.

There is (or was, I haven’t heard anything from them for a while but I hope they still exist) a Greek reconstructionist group who considered Patriots’ Day a holy day, and would thus process, garlanded, from the State House down to the Public Garden and pour libations at the feet of the statue of George Washington, honoring the heroes of the Battle of Marathon, the Battles of Lexington, Concord, and Menotomy, and the victorious athletes of the marathon race (and occasionally, when appropriate, the Red Sox). Sure, this isn’t a date on the Athenian calendar so often used by Hellenic reconstructionists – but Boston was the polis that they lived in, and this was clearly the day that the entire polis of Boston was celebrating its hero cult, in traditional Greek fashion with contests of athleticism, even.

I think about them a fair amount. It’s such an easy, obvious thing to do, when one is actually thinking in a way that the ancients would have recognised. Of course one pours to the heroes of the city on the day the city celebrates its heroes.

It is certainly the case that the Egyptians blended their “civic” and “religious” holidays extensively. After all, the execration ritual that I documented performing during the Festival of the Beautiful Reunion had very little to do with the marriage rites of Hetharu and Heru, and a whole lot to do with the business of ritually cursing the enemies of the king, in order to maintain confidence in the security of the state. Some of the work that gets done in terms of reconstruction is figuring out which things attached to those days can make sense in a modern situation where not only are we not operating with the more or less unified population of a nation, but where we are a tiny, fringe minority.

We will almost certainly never have massive city-wide festivals of people celebrating Opet again. But … and here’s an interesting thing … can we do something like those Hellenics did? Can we join massive city-wide festivals and make of them something meaningful to us in a theological sense?

Is Flag Day a day of a processional standard? Does Inauguration Day establish Heru upon His throne? Is the Queen’s Birthday a festival of the royal ka – that symbolic place of pomp and ritual that demonstrates the world working as it should be? Is Guy Fawkes Day a celebration of a defeat of the Confederacy of Set or, even more dramatically, a smiting of Apep? Might Unification Day in Germany celebrate the Reconciliation? Obviously, these questions will differ depending on the nation in which one resides, and the comfort one has with affiliating one concept with the other. (For example, National Foundation Day in Japan has, at some level, an invocation of Amaterasu as royal ancestor; one might not want to potentially offend Her by adding on an udjat-Eye of Ra as royal protectress festival. On the other hand, She might be perfectly happy with the return of the sun to nationalistic imagery – and it’s the people who know Her and Her nation who will have to think about that.)

I could keep looking for new holidays to theorise about – so many post-colonial nations have some form of Independence Day, is that Heru declaring Himself against His usurping uncle? – commemorations of military victories can be marked as Festivals of Victory – commemorations of war dead are clearly days to honor the Westerners – but I’d rather, for the moment, leave it more open, and raise this as a theoretical ponder.

When celebrating a religion which blended the understanding of the state and the understanding of the divine, and while coming up with ways of celebrating holidays with state aspects despite no longer having an equivalent position, how can we sacralise and divinise our national holidays, and bring our understanding of the holy back into alignment with the nations in which we do, actually, live?

This has other consequences, but that is too deep a post for a holiday morning. I would rather just ask: how can we use our theology to become better members of our local, regional, and national communities, rather than to feel ourselves set apart from them, different, and alien?


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