Soon the Feast of Ascension will be upon us; it will be followed, soon after, by Pentecost.
When I used to live in Germany, these were both public feast days. Actually, at Pentecost the festivity was the following day.
I never can understand when even people who consider themselves religious manage to separate the calendar from their religious convictions. Religion is not a private matter, something that you remember only when you are closed in your own bedroom and pray. Religion is very much a public matter, and Christianity, with its inherent claim to evangelisation and expansion, is the most public matter of them all.
It is true that Christians would celebrate Christmas even if it wasn’t a public festivity; but it is also true that when a Christian festivity is a feast day the following happens:
1) the Christian character of a country is reaffirmed;
2) Christianity is forcefully put to the attention of non-Christians;
3) the Christian calendar moulds collective identity, even for non-churchgoers.
The idea that it be all right for Christians to celebrate, say, Labour Day or those insipid, utterly stupid, PC-stinking “bank holidays” we have here in the UK without pushing for their substitution with Christian holidays is, in my eyes, not very Christian. In my opinion, public feast days on, at the very least, Ascension, Pentecost, Corpus Domini and Assumption should be in the private list of grievances of every UK Catholic, and the first two in that of every Christian. The Catholic – and not only Catholic – hierarchy should push for the recognition of at least the first two in lieu of those stupid, politically correct, tofu-like “bank holidays” or, in case and when necessary, through the reduction of statutory holiday rights. They might, admittedly, not succeed in this generation, but their assertiveness would put Christianity high on the agenda and force the country to think about what it want to be, and what price it would pay if the wrong decision is taken.
These days, middle ways are difficult to maintain and – as I have heard saying – he who stays in the middle of the road risks ending up under a truck. Cue the calls for the abolition of Christmas as a festivity, or the renaming of Christmas markets as “winter lights” – or such bollocks – already seen all over England.
Christianity can’t be protected by half, and neutrality is of no use. You either fight for the Christian values of your country, or you will be forced in a rearguard battle by the ever complaining, now more and more aggressive atheists.
In countries like Italy – where the situation is not ideal, either – every city has a feast day on the day of his patron saint. Think of what this means: that the city puts itself under the protection of a saint, and that this is made clearly visible as a social, and not merely religious, event.
Feast days alone will, admittedly, not cause a country to become more Christian. But by clearly marking the Christian ground, they will at least make it more difficult for it to become less Christian, and will be a public call to conversion in times of licence and unbelief.
Christianity is not a private matter.