“Happy Palm Sunday,” I told a friend on Facebook chat as I greeted her. It had been a long time since I’d spoken with her, so I was pleased to see her name pop up. But I was more pleased about the day.
“Happy Passover!” she responded cheerfully, surprising me slightly and making me think. It wasn’t that Passover had slipped my mind, though it’s true that I don’t pay much attention to the Jewish calendar. It was more that it made me start wondering why some people celebrate some holidays, but not others. This past month, for example, I have had to explain what Lent is to some new person at least once every two days.
Christianity is a religion with a lot of holidays. A lot. At the very least, every Sunday is Lord’s Day, and on higher church calendars one can generally count on there being something else being observed, besides. Which is why I’ve always been confused by Christians who get offended by being told “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” in December. After all, December on my calendar is like a huge blitz of remembrance, a gauntlet of joy — Advent, St. James’ Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, St. Becket’s Day, just to name a few. And then, of course, secular holidays and holidays from other religions. Add in birthdays and anniversaries of anyone who happened to have major life events happen in December, and there is a mountain of things to celebrate by the time the month is out.
So I don’t understand a mindset that says “others must celebrate only the holiday I observe, and not their own.” Really, I’m still surprised that the rest of the world wants to celebrate Christmas with us — and of course, they are to be welcomed with open arms. But I wouldn’t think anything of it if only Christians celebrated Christmas and no one else cared. Because really, why would they?
If you’re wondering why I’m talking about Christmas in the middle of Holy Week, it’s because it is incredibly hard for me to separate thinking about the two. From my point of view, there are just those two holy days that are so important they become definitive for time itself: there is Christmas, there is Easter, and then there is every day in between where we look forward to one or the other. Advent and Lent are mirrors of each other, preparing us for the most important events in the life of a Christian: the birth, death, and resurrection of God.
I do not mind the world’s embellishments of chocolate and bunnies. It may miss the heart of Easter, but every holiday is in part an expression of culture for those celebrating it. That is why December’s greeting of “happy holidays” is so important, with its Christmas and Hanukkah and Ramadan. In acknowledging another culture’s holiday, we acknowledge that culture’s people. In observing it, we take on a bit of that culture ourselves. I don’t know if anyone’s been converted to Christ by an Easter Egg hunt or a Santa Claus song, but stranger things have happened.
Here in Holy Week, then, is a similar gauntlet of holidays — one more difficult to get through. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are not easy holidays, and it would be slightly inaccurate to say we celebrate them. But the joy of Easter will make it all worth it. Until then, these few days — starting with Palm Sunday, just past — are a uniquely Christian experience not quite like anything else. This week is ours, a high expression of Christian culture.
And then, there is Passover.
Now, there are warnings in Galatians about Gentile Christians celebrating Jewish holidays, but let’s not stretch that warning beyond what it meant. With the proper motive and gentleness of spirit, even if as Christians we may choose not to celebrate Passover, contemplating it can add to our own understanding of what we do observe.
And so, whatever holidays you may choose to celebrate, if you are a Christian I encourage you to contemplate Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday this week… and Passover, too.
There are a lot of holidays this month, some clustered together here. Observe them all, or observe none; happy holidays to you, because we all need a little more happiness all year round.
1. By “gentleness of spirit”, I mean that if one is not careful, one could wind up trampling all over the holiday instead of honoring it! If I were a Jew, for example, I know I would not appreciate being told that Passover was being co-opted as just a tool for Christians to have a better Easter, or as an object lesson to teach another religion’s value. So please, if you are going to contemplate or even observe Passover this year, then be respectful and contemplate Passover as Passover, and not merely as a stepping stone. How would you feel if it was your holiday?