Our new, entirely commercial, liturgical calendar, purged of all religion

A still from very shaky, low-res video I shot inside Macy's flagship store on 34th Street in New York on Black Friday, 2007.

A still from very shaky, low-res video I shot inside Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street in New York on Black Friday, 2007.

Once upon a time, we kept track of our days this way throughout what was termed Christendom:

  • Michaelmas — Sept. 29 — Not only a day to celebrate the archangels, and especially Michael, who defeated Lucifer in the original War on Terror. It was also the ending and beginning of the husbandman’s year, when the harvest was over and the bailiff of the manor would make out his accounts for the year. Big day, back when most of us were engaged with agriculture in one way or another.
  • All Saint’s Day — November 1 — Also known as All Hallows, making the night before… well, you get it, right?
  • First Sunday in Advent — fourth Sunday before Christmas, which this year was yesterday — The beginning, NOT of the Christmas season, but of the time of contemplative anticipation looking forward to the arrival of Jesus Christ into the world. Christmas begins, not ends, on Dec. 25, which if you go way back, was once Saturnalia. This occurred this past Sunday.
  • Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception — December 8 — No, this is not about the Virgin Birth, which is a whole separate concept. This was defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854, and he was infallible in setting out this dogma, because he spoke ex cathedra, and… well, it’s complicated. Elaborating might make Protestants’ heads hurt…
  • Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe — December 12 — This celebrates the appearance of the Virgin Mary to an American Indian named Juan Diego (who has his own feast day three days earlier). She spoke Nahuatl to him. Among us Catholics, she is the Patroness of the Americas.

Anyway, you get the idea. There wasn’t a day in the calendar that didn’t have its own, holy designation — if you belonged to a liturgical church. Although some feast days were more equal than others.

But as Bob Dylan would say, it used to go like that; now it goes like this:

  • The Day after Halloween — When you can start to see the Christmas displays in the stores.
  • Black Friday Eve — A day once given over to thanks to God is now increasingly the day when those who can’t wait a day to shop traipse to the stores.
  • Black Friday — Not to be confused with the one in 1688, when the Anglican bishops were imprisoned, or the one in 1929 when the market crashed, or any of a couple of dozen other dark days in history. No, this is a recurring day, the observance of which has crept up on us over the last few decades. It’s allegedly the biggest shopping day of the year, and the “black” has a couple of meanings — it’s a day without which merchants’ books might never get into the black, and it’s also a hellish day to go shopping.
  • Small Business Saturday — Just in case you only went to the chain stores on Friday.
  • Cyber Monday — The reason this falls on a Monday is that people like to do all their online stuff while they’re at work, something I discovered back when I started blogging and tracked my traffic by the day and hour. Anyway, this is the day when people buy the gifts that they looked at while showrooming on Friday.
  • Giving Tuesday — This is the only day in this new calendar that bears any relationship to the traditional reason for the season. I’ve gotten solicitations from several local nonprofits, wanting me to give today. This is the first time I remember being aware of this one.
  • The Day After Christmas — Once known as Boxing Day in some cultures, it’s now the second-biggest shopping orgy of the year, supposedly.

You’ll note that, with the exception of Giving Tuesday, this new liturgical calendar is about nothing holy or transcendent, but all about the gimme-gimme, pure commerce. For that matter, Giving Tuesday is about trying to adapt altruism to this new, entirely secular calendar of recognized (and much advertised) observances.

This formalization of the shopping calendar has pretty much taken place entirely within my lifetime.

22 thoughts on “Our new, entirely commercial, liturgical calendar, purged of all religion

  1. Lynn Teague

    Liturgical calendars change. I prefer to think of the Virgin of Guadalupe as Tonatzin, her Nahuatl name. My retirement present from my colleagues at the University of Arizona was a wonderful carved wooden statue that clearly shows the blending of the symbols of Tonatzin and Mary, carved by a Mayo Indian. Tepeyac, where the Virgin was supposedly seen, was a shrine to Tonatzin.

  2. Kevin Dietrich

    Even “Giving Tuesday” seems out of place, as it’s organizations *asking* for money. I understand they’re non-profits, but it would be more palatable to me personally if Giving Tuesday was a day when the non-profits announced where their funds were going, rather than hitting people up for cash.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      I think they are trying to encourage people to buy gifts from them, at least what I saw for the most part.

  3. M. Prince

    Commodification is a direct (and seemingly ever expanding) outgrowth of a central element in the American ethos: market-driven capitalism. So it was probably an inevitable development.

    I agree with you, though, that it has added another grim dimension to the term “rat race”.

    Makes me want to put on Dwight, Waylon or Merle and listen again to “Stop the World and Let Me Off”.

  4. Kathryn Fenner

    You left off St. Andrew’s Day, December 1.

    Christmas has been commercial ever since Christendom had commerce. Besides, this isn’t a “holy time of year”– Jesus was not born in December, according to all science. Christmas tacked onto the winter festivals that arose to counteract seasonal darkness. For a lot of people, shopping provides a lift, especially buying for others. Vaya con Dios to them.

    1. M. Prince

      Yep, I’ve seen these … creatures on the prowl. Once saw one of them burst in on an unsuspecting child, leaving the poor kid trembling and bawling in the corner. Definitely not the visit from St. Nikolaus he was expecting.

      1. M. Prince

        Zwarte Piet is a whimp compared with St. Nikolaus’s traditional partner in Christmas crime right next door in the home of the Teuton. Known as “Knecht Ruprecht,” this gloomy alter ego would accompany St. Nick on his rounds and if a child was found wanting in the “nice” category, the poor tike would get naught from Nick save for a disapproving scowl and instead would be treated to a round of whacks delivered to his backside by a darkly gleeful Herr Ruprecht.

        Kids definitely had it rough back in the day — at least in some parts of the world!

          1. Silence

            “Knecht” means “servant” and the Deutch word for “knight” is “Ritter” but the two words are probably related somewhere way back in Germanic or English history.

  5. Kathryn Fenner

    –and St. Lucia’s Day, when the youngest girl of the house wears a wreath on her head, with lit candles….

  6. bud

    Not sure why this is surprising in a culture that worships the god “capitalism” above all others. A dose of socialism might do us all some good.

  7. Brad Warthen Post author

    And today, I have multiple ads informing me that this is Green Monday, yet another commerce-based observance.

    How about that? This year Green Monday (of which I had never heard before this year) falls on the same day as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. And the day John Lennon was killed…

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      Look, they are just trying to make a buck, just like you are with your ad-generating job. You make bank influencing public opinion and individual purchasing and voting decisions, so getting all “get offa my lawn” about others is a bit rich, dontcha think?

      I, on the other hand, am a leech who lives off the fat of the academic industrial complex, of a particularly arcane bent, so there is no real world irony to my bewailing!

      Who are these people who buy all this stuff? I mean, I look at the “gift guides” everybody promulgates, and I would not spend that much on most of the stuff for anyone, including myself, or else it is disposable tchotchkes I would immediately send off to Goodwill.

Comments are closed.