25 February 2009

Poodles, Chihuahuas, St. Patrick's Day and Purim

When "Poodle kills Chihuahua at park" makes the online front page headlines in the metro Denver oriented Rocky Mountain News, despite the fact that the incident took place across the mountains in Grand Junction, we may just be having a slow news day. It almost reads like a headline out of The Onion, but The Daily Sentinel, which I subscribed to for three years when I lived in Grand Junction, is a legitimate and serious, albeit underwhelming, newspaper.

It is also set to be a glorious sunny day in Colorado. Maybe we're all just sick of hearing heavier news.

Today is also Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent for liturgical Christians. Lent, and its Islamic counterpart Ramadan, are extended periods set aside for self-denial in later winter/early spring. Historically, they coincided with the lean days when food stores from fall harvests would run low before spring harvests arrived, in part due to the perennial inability of people to plan well for the future, and in part due to inadequate means of food storage.

In the Lutheran Church I attended growing up, Lent meant Wednesday night church services followed by soup and bread suppers, sometimes a sedar service to familarize us with what Passover involved for Jews like Jesus, the removal of decorations from the sancturary, and giving something up enjoyable and a little decadent for forty days (New Year's Resolutions have been safely abandoned by then). It began with Ash Wednesday annointing with ashes (traditionally from the burning of Palm Sunday palms from the year before), for the truly hard core, and wraps up with an intensely meditative and worship filled Holy Week, and finally with a festive sunrise Easter morning service and candy.

I was pondering, as I noted this date today, why St. Patrick's Day, and the Jewish holiday of Purim, both of which are traditionally observed with heavy drinking, during this period normally reserved for underconsumption.

The fact that Passover and Easter are moveable holidays in our conventional solar calendar (the latter because of the former), somewhat obscures a plausible reason, but this year, St. Patrick's Day, March 17, lies almost exactly halfway into Lent. So, perhaps St. Patrick's Day and Purim served as times to blow up the pent up frustration and crankiness of the midpoint of the lean days of the year.

Lutherans, in practice, believe in not sinning in the first place, perhaps because they banned indulgences and don't fully trust the whole forgiveness concept deep in their hearts. So, we never made all that much of St. Patrick's Day. It is also tainted for me by the memory of one of my high school peers who killed himself after getting drunk with green beer in our college town. Instead, we worried mostly about getting pinched at school if we didn't wear green, a tradition tolerated, and even encouraged by our teachers who normally wouldn't tolerate such mischief. Immediate minor pain for the minor sin of failing to follow the rules of the holiday was a way to recognize the St. Patrick's Day holiday far more in tune with Lutheran and Midwestern sensibilities.

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