There is a degree of confusion over the celebration of Mothering Sunday. This falls on the fourth Sunday in Lent and is an ancient British festivity. Mothers Day on the other hand is an American invention of the 20th century. The American celebration occurs on the second Sunday in May. Unfortunately the term Mothering Sunday is fighting a loosing battle, and although the date remains tied to Lent, most people call the day itself Mothers Day, regardless of the fact that this is the UK.
Halloween too is a recent American import into Britain. I would have been perfectly happy if the day had stayed where it belongs, across the Pond. Halloween may have existed in some form in the distant past in England, but it had not been celebrated here for hundreds of years, until a few decades ago. When I was young it hardly entered our consciousness. All Saints Day may have made a brief appearance in the church calendar, but spooks and pumpkin lanterns made no appearance whatsoever on the evening before. Turnip lanterns round the bonfire were reserved for Guy Fawkes Night.
Thanksgiving Day still has not made the journey to this country, so we should perhaps have our own small thanksgiving for this minor mercy. The English celebration of Harvest Festival is quite adequate for me. Black Friday is the most recent import from our American cousins. It is the high point of the consumers’ year. Why is it called Black Friday? The most convincing explanation I have heard is that is the day in the year when retailers are firmly “in the black” i.e. in profit. It’s all about profit; the day is the secular equivalent of Easter Day, so it is not surprising therefore that it has echoes of Holy Week in its strange name, Black Friday.
Let me take you through the days of Holy Week; we have Palm Sunday followed by Holy Monday and Holy Tuesday. The Wednesday is sometimes known Spy Wednesday after the presence of Judas Iscariot with the other disciples on that day. The Thursday is always called Maundy Thursday in England but has other names in other parts of Christendom. Good Friday is followed by Holy Saturday and the week’s solemn ceremonies come to their climax on Easter Day. But some of the days of the week that precede Holy Week also have names. The Friday before Palm Sunday is called the Friday of Sorrows. It is this day which I feel ought to be called Black Friday, and have felt so ever since I first heard the term. But instead of having a spiritual significance is all about money.
Black Friday is the celebration of the god of Mammon. How people can still be persuaded to hunt down bargains when they already have everything they could possibly need I do not know. Perhaps some benighted souls still lack a flat screen television set, but their numbers can hardly explain the sight of hordes determined shoppers struggling to pull the goods off the shelves, or attempting to pull bargains from each other’s arms. Ever more expensive technological developments like Bluetooth and 3-D television try to persuade us to part with our money. Perhaps it is just as well that they do, or economic growth would grind to a halt and that would never do, would it? but I cannot help a feeling of quiet despair as the Celebration of Christmas becomes more of a Festival of Greed with every passing year. The retailers would like to see Easter go the same way, but there are only so many chocolate eggs you can eat.
I agonise over what to buy as Christmas presents. Those trinkets which we are expected to buy are obviously things which will be thrown out with the mistletoe as soon as the turkey is cold on the plate. There is no conception of the traditional period of Advent being a time of fasting. Advent only means taking chocolates from your Advent Calendar. Christmas ought to be celebrated by twelve days of feasting, but by Boxing Day we are already feeling jaded. We have just recovered enough to go out for another celebration on New Year’s Eve, and then it is all over for another year. By then the Christmas Trees that only a couple of weeks earlier had been sought after as expensive and essential items have been sent to the Municipal shredder and the tinsel has gone into the wheelie bin.
Lent is perhaps better known as a period of fasting, and more people observe it than do Advent, but their numbers are getting smaller. Some people give up cakes but I favour giving up alcohol. After all the drinking done over Christmas (or if you are Scottish, Hogmanay and Burns Night) a period of abstemiousness is very good for the liver, never mind the spiritual side of things. And as Sundays don’t count as part of lent, you can drink then anyway.