Ruth & I were in a grocery store on St. Patrick’s Day. Ruth asked the young clerk checking us out how he planned to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and he said he planned to do something after work. It was pretty vague, but I got to thinking that St. Patrick is the only saint we still honor with a special day each year. Why is he the only saint with an American holiday still connected to his name? I got to thinking about the last time St. Patrick’s Day made an impression on me, and I recalled trying to visit Wrigley Field in Chicago on St. Pat’s weekend and almost hitting several young men who were very drunk in a street.
What does Easter mean now? It’s on April 4 this year. I was in another grocery store this morning and looking at a display of Easter bunnies. They were ceramic, chocolate, and plastic. Is this all that Easter has become, a celebration of rabbit images and candy? It used to be a serious religious holiday in my family preceded by Palm Sunday and The Stations of the Cross.
In Under the Tuscan Sun Frances Mayes, who grew up in Georgia as a Methodist and then became an Episcopalian said, “I never tire of going into Italian churches.” This is what everyone does in Italy. She became a nominal catholic each summer when she lived there. What do you think about when you think about Assisi? St. Francis, of course. Why are certain old books like Under the Tuscan Sun and The Queen’s Gambit timeless and always a potential read or TV series when other books are dated as soon as they are published? People are still reading Moby Dick and To Kill a Mockingbird, and Emma and Pride and Prejudice are still being made into movies. “Sunday is Cemetery Day here,” Frances Mayes comments. In other words, living members of Italian families visit cemeteries on Sunday and lay flowers on the burial places of dead family members. I remember seeing a movie called For Roseanna several years ago about a woman who was dying and struggling to rent grave space for just a few years in her village cemetery. The practice of lingering in a local cemetery on weekends to talk to long-dead relatives remains an Italian custom. The last time I visited my mother’s grave was the day we buried her many years ago.
And what has become of Christmas? We still buy gifts, but why do we still do this? To go into holiday debt? Frances Mayes and her husband went to their home in Italy every Christmas and invited family members and friends to stay with them to celebrate Christmas in traditional ways. They went to church before opening gifts. Big food feasts followed gift opening. About the only thing traditional about Christmas any more is the music, but no one I know goes caroling.
If you want to know how far we’ve come when it comes to celebrating holidays, think about the last time you celebrated Columbus Day.