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Have a Good Haligdaeg

July 20th 2014

This article appears in the August edition of Roundabout, the magazine of St Andrew's, Carters Green.

Have a Good Haligdaeg

It’s August, and for many that will mean a holiday. Some will be fortunate to be able to get away for a few days, or a maybe even a week or more, others will hopefully be able to get at least a few days off work.

The origin of holiday is rooted in the old English words of Halig, meaning Holy and Daeg meaning day. The term dates from the 10th century and appears in a note of that time in the margins of the Lindisfarne Gospels. By the 1200s it had become haliday and a couple of centuries later holiday.

In the 14th century the term meant both a time of recreation and also a religious festival. The two things were very much intertwined back then and echoes of religious observances being combined with a time of recreation survive. In Ashbourne in Derbyshire, for example, there’s an annual football match around Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday (bearing little resemblance to the organised sport we are familiar with) played through the streets with goals two miles part, thousands of players and going on for two days! Holy Week and Easter have traditions in York and Winchester, and other places, of bawdy Passion Plays with very loose interpretations of the Gospel narrative.

By the 16th century the two ideas of holiday, as a time of recreation, and holy day, as a religious observance, had diverged. But in some ways the overlap continued right into the last century. A look through the Marriage Registers at our recent Heritage Day would soon reveal that the most popular day for weddings in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was Christmas Day! For many people, especially those “in service” or working in certain industries, it was the only day off other than Sundays that they had during the year.

Into the latter 20th century one of the few remaining links between holiday and holy day was severed. The annual Whit Bank Holiday became separated (most years) from Whit Sunday (Pentecost). The holiday is now always the last Monday in May, but Whit Sunday (Pentecost) is always fifty days after Easter so can be anytime from the first week in May to the middle of June!

The original, and most frequent, holy day is of course the sabbath - for Christians a Sunday or “the first day of the week” as the Gospels call the Day of Resurrection. Sunday is traditionally a day off but times change and many work that day. It’s important for everyone to have a “sabbath day” of rest (mine’s a Friday!).

It’s important too to take more time off for a proper time of rest and recreation. It’s a time to spend with things that are really important to us, family and friends perhaps, and to consider our place in the wider scheme of God’s world with a trip to the country, the coast or even overseas. It is a time to celebrate the things that we consider of real worth - which incidentally is where the word worship (worth ship) comes from. It’s all tied up with the holy.

So wherever you find yourselves this holiday season, have a great time.