This is the time of year for festivals. After the self-imposed misery of Lent, it starts with Easter. When is Easter? Bishop’s secretaries throughout the land are kept busy answering that question.
Easter Sunday is the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs on or soonest after March 21st, the Spring Equinox. So now you know for all time. The earliest Easter Sunday will be on March 22nd but that will not happen until 2285 so you need not worry about it. The latest possible is April 25th and that will be in 2038.
The Christian Orthodox stick to the Julian calendar and Easter is later for them.
Is Easter really a festival? A time of gaiety, revelry, and joyousness? Benjamin Zephaniah said, ‘If that’s a good Friday, I wouldn’t want a bad one.’
All the festivals seem to be linked to the Spring Equinox, the beginning of the growing season in the Northern hemisphere. Many take this time as New Year; there is the Persian New Year, the Zoroastrians celebrate it.
We have Lady Day which the church calls the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. In rural England, it was the end of the year when rental contracts ended and were re-newed, when rents were paid and tenancies fixed for the coming year. Hardly classed as a festival but the UK tax year begins on April 6th, a remnant from the old days.
The Spring Equinox is a time when fairies gather and cavort in forest glades and alongside streams and ponds.
There is a second cluster of festivals after an interval of 40 days. What is the origin of the 40-day interval? I have no idea but is seems older than the 40 day fast in the desert. St Swithun is a local 40 day event but does not occur until July.
April 30 is a North European festival; Walpurgis Night. The night the witches all gather in the forest in Germany and Holland. Edvard Grieg composed a piano piece ‘The Watchman’s Song’ (Opus 12) characterised by a stolid watchman disturbed by the rustling and flittering of spirits in the night.
Another festival is Ederlezi, a Romany celebration, held 40 days after the Equinox. This seems to have its origins in Rajasthan and the Punjab where the Romany people originated.
Then, of course, there is Christian Ascension Day on the 40th day after Easter. What Christ did during those 40 days is an uncertain part of the story. It is well known to Psychiatrists and Neurologists that the bereaved often experience powerful but intangible visions of loved ones in the early days after death.
May 1st is a fixed festival. A day when, in Sweden, everyone wears a flower in their buttonhole called the ‘First of May Bloom.’ It is the beginning of spring for them. The Soviet Union designated it a day for the workers and it has become a festival for the political left. Do not confuse May Day with Mayday (m’aidez, help me.)
May Day is associated with Morris Men, Maypoles and Queens of the May.
On the seventh Sunday after Easter (49 days), is Whitsuntide. The time the Holy Spirit descended. I never really understood this phenomenon and when I asked our chaplain about it in detail he seemed embarrassed. Anyway, I never learned to speak in tongues other than my mother tongue so that piece of life has passed me by.
Whitsuntide, also known as Beltane, is a very important Gaelic festival marking the half way point between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. It is celebrated with bonfires to protect the crops and livestock and to encourage growth. Traditionally, all house fires were doused and re-kindled from the flame of the Beltane bonfires.
Finally, the greatest festival of all, Chandler’s Ford Fryern Funtasia. Greatest because it is ours. It does not belong to any ethnic or religious group, is not linked to any political movement. Great because it represents our social and community life. It is where we can strut our stuff, hobbies, choirs, dog shows, social support groups, people having fun and doing all kinds of things including just chatting over a cup of tea.
The next festivals with gather around the Summer Solstice.