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April Holidays

Asterisks appear next to saintsí names - see Celebrating Saints

April 16 Burmese New Year
Just as on the Hindu holiday of Holi, people throw water at each other. They also play jokes and tricks, similar to April Fools. All rules are ignored and no one is supposed to get angry about being soaked or tricked. This holiday provides a chance to learn that it is OK to be foolish.

Rosen, Mike, Spring Festivals, Bookwright Press 1991

April 16 St Benedict Joseph Labre
This itinerant pilgrim is the patron saint of the homeless. After having been rejected as a candidate by several monastic orders, he left his hometown of Boulogne for a pilgrimage to Rome which took over four years. When he reached Rome, he slept in the Colosseum, along with other homeless people and spent his days in various churches praying.

A good day to talk to a homeless person or make a contribution to an organization that provides shelter.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press, 1999

April 19 Cerealia
On the last day of the weeklong Roman festival honoring Ceres, most popular among the common folk, people visited each other, enjoying and extending hospitality. Foxes with torches tied to their tails were let loose.

Ovid describes the sort of offerings brought to Ceres: "spelt, and the compliment of salt, and grains of incense…Good Ceres is content with little, if that little be but pure. White is Ceres's proper color; put on white robes at Ceres's festival."

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press, 1999

April 20 Mounichion
The Athenians celebrated Artemis on the full moon of Mounichion, both as goddess of wild things (the foundation myth mentions a bear and a bejewelled goat) and as the Moon Goddess. According to Parke, "special cakes called amphiphontes [shining all round] were carried in the procession…they had lighted candles stuck in a circle."

Parke, Festivals of the Athenians

April 20 Passover
The first day of the eight-day Jewish holiday which commemorates the Exodus, the freedom of the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt.

Before the holiday begins, houses are thoroughly cleaned, recalling the "house-shaking" of No-Ruz (see March 20). All traces of leaven (alcohol, bread, grain, cereal, vinegar, cornstarch) are removed. A palm branch or feather is often used to brush the last crumbs out of the door, with the following words: "All leaven I have not seen or removed or that I don't know about is hereby null and void and ownerless as the dust of the earth."

SophieTrupin writing about how her family celebrated Passover while homesteading in North Dakota at the start of the twentieth century, describes how her mother whitewashed all the walls and scoured the floors, scalded the cooking pots with hot water, and carried every piece of furniture down to the slew where she scrubbed them and left them to dry in the air.

At the ceremonial meal of the Seder, every food that is eaten is symbolic. The roasted lamb represents the lamb whose blood was smeared on lintels which told the Angel of Death, who slaughtered the firstborn children of the Egyptians, to "pass over" the dwelling places of the Jews. The unleavened bread represents the hasty departure of the Jews from Egypt--they had to leave so quickly the dough didn't have time to rise. The bitter herbs (usually parsley, radish, onion or horseradish) represent the bitterness of slavery and are dipped in salt water so they taste of tears. A special dessert made of chopped apple, nuts, cinnamon and wine is said to stand for the bricks the Jews made in captivity. Eggs symbolize fertility. Each participant drinks four cups of wine during the ritual meal. A special glass is set aside for the prophet Elijah.

There are many Haggadahs, liturgies which structure the Seder. The ritual usually begins with the lighting the festival candles, hand-washing, eating the bitter herbs dipped in salt water and breaking one matzah. Other traditional parts include asking and answering questions, re-telling of the Exodus story, singing psalms, eating the ritual food items, eating the regular meal and after the meal, the recitation of grace, more psalms and closing songs and prayers.

Arthur Waskow, the author of my favorite book on Jewish holidays, speculates that the Jewish holiday represents the fusion of two earlier festivals, one of shepherds held at the time of lambing which involved slaughtering a lamb and smearing its blood on doorways (see April 23 for an Albanian custom which preserves this idea) and another of farmers who prepared for the harvest of spring barley and wheat by clearing out all the sour dough, the starter dough used to make bread rise.

Trupin, Sophie, Dakota Diaspora, Alternative Press 1984
Waskow, Arthur, Seasons of Our Joy, Beacon 1982

April 21 Parilia
The Roman feast of Pales, a sylvan and pastoral goddess. Virgil said: "and let a basket of millet accompany cakes of millet." This rural goddess also appreciates offerings of milk. Cattle are driven through the smoke of bonfires, probably to smoke out any insects lurking in their coats as they are turned out into the pastures. Houses and barns are swept and sprinkled with water to purify them.

It was such a joyful celebration, culminating in revellers leaping over burning heaps of hay, that at one time the Catholic Church renamed it Urbs Aeterna and declared it was the last possible date for Easter so that this merriment would not disturb the austerity of Lent.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press, 1999

April 21 Counting the Omer
On the second day of Passover, Jews begin counting the omer, the fifty days until Shavuot. In ancient times, the Israelites brought a measure (an omer) of freshly cut barley to the Temple every day during this time. Since then it has become a time of sadness and mourning rituals. Jews do not attend plays, concerts or other public entertainments. Weddings are forbidden.

Waskow speculates that the solemnity of this period mirrors the anxiety about the upcoming wheat. Passover coincides with the barley-harvest and about 50 days later, the wheat will be ready for harvest, unless spoiled by bad weather or pests.

The Kabalists attributed to each of the seven weeks of the Counting of the Omer an aspect of God and worked on strengthening the virtue associated with each. The qualities of God and their corresponding virtues and vices are:

Chesed

loving-kindness

love

lust

Gevurah

serenity

respect

fear

Tiferet

beauty

compassion

indulgence

Netzach

victory

efficiency

pedantry

Hod

glory

aesthetics

vanity

Yesod

intimacy

loyalty

promiscuity

Malchut

majesty

leadership

stubbornness

These qualities can also be combined so that you can study the different paths on the Kabalistic tree during each of the 49 days, beginning with Chesed-Chesed, continuing through Gevurah-Chesed, Tiferet-Chesed, etc. for the first week. The second week begins with Gevurah-Chesed, then Gevurah-Gevurah, then Gevurah-Tiferet and so forth.

Waskow has suggestions for other meditations for the seven weeks if this seems too Kabalistic to you. For instance, he suggests getting to know a different flower (or herb) each week, or getting to know a new person, or reading a chapter a week of the Song of Songs. Or giving away increasing sums of money, 25 cents a day the first week, 50 cents a day the second week, 75 cents a day the third week, working your way up to $1.75 the seventh week, for a total of $49.

Any set of seven items might provide food for thought during the seven weeks. The seven deadly sins? The seven directions?

Waskow, Arthur, Seasons of Our Joy, Beacon 1982

April 21/22 Lyrid Meteor Showers
This meteor shower appears to radiate from the area around the star Vega, the brightest star in the sky above Cygnus, the Northern Cross. The show should begin around 9 PM at night but this meteor shower is not known for quantity, with about 10 meteors visible per hour. For more information go to Gary Kronk’s wonderful meteor web site:
http://comets.amsmeteors.org/meteors/showers/lyridobs.html

April 22 Earth Day
A fairly new holiday which was first celebrated in 1970 as a way of calling attention to the perils of the environment. It is appropriate that this holiday which reminds us to care for Mother Earth, falls during a month dotted with festivals to the goddess as garden guardian (see Apr 1 and Apr 258) and earth mother (see April 3, 12 and 15).

Mrs Sharp (an alter ego of Sarah Ban Breathnachk) takes advantage of this holiday to inventory garden tools and supplies. She makes presents of gardening gloves and other accessories. Each of her children has a tree, and they clean around their own tree and tie a ribbon on the trunk to honor it.

Breathnach, Sarah Ban, Mrs Sharp's Traditions, Simon & Schuster 1990
Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

Earth Day

April 23 St George*
Despite the fact that very little is known about him, St George has been an object of devotion since the fifth century and perhaps earlier (there is a church dedicated to him in Constantinople which was supposedly built by Constantine the Great). During the Mmiddle Aages, he was best known for saving the king's daughter from a dragon. The story was usually set in Lydda, near where Perseus in the Greek myth rescued Andromeda, suggesting that George inherited the warrior-like qualities of the Greek hero.

A very militant saint, he became the patron saint of England, soldiers and Boy Scouts. The English celebrate by wearing roses and raising his flag, a red cross on a white background. He is often depicted as a mounted warrior.

But like Ares, after whom he may be modeled, George also has associations with the old Green Man. His very name means farmer. In Russia and in Eastern Europe, a boy is decked with branches and flowers and goes about the cornfields on St George's Day. He may be a tree-spirit, like the Jack in the Green of May Day Mummer's plays, or the Whitsuntide Basket (a man dressed in a greenery-bedecked frame on Whitsun, the Christian Beltane).

Carinthian and Transylvanian farmers identify Green George with a birch tree or a willow tree, decked with flowers and set up in the center of a village for one day. The following day, Green George is represented by a boy clad in branches, leaves and flowers. In the evening, Green George is a leaf-clad puppet thrown into a running stream.

Czechoslovakian girls practice divination on this day by weaving garlands and then tossing them up into trees or into rivers. If the garland gets caught in the tree, they will marry; if it falls out, they will be an old maid. If the garland is carried away by the river, they will leave the village; if it gets stuck, they will stay home.

In Catalonia, his holiday is the occasion for a parade featuring a smoke-belching dragon and battles between Moors and Christians. Men give women roses and women give men books. The traditional treat is a an oblong pastry, bearing the saint's name on one side and stripes of red and yellow on the other. [Rufus]

Albanians slaughter a lamb on this day and smear blood on sills (recalling the Jewish holiday of Passover--see April 17Mar 28) to protect them from evil. Before an icon of St George, they pray: "Holy St George, this year thou hast sent me this lamb, next year, I beseech you, send me a larger one." This is the name-day of the national hero George Castriota, who resisted the Ottomans in the fifteenth century. People go on picnics and weigh themselves holding sprigs of green.

In Greece, George is a special favorite of shepherds. At Arachova, his image is carried in procession around the town, led by old men dancing to pipes and tabors. The water supply iwas curt off until the old men reached a line in the ballad where they siang: "Dragon, set free the water, that the revellers may drink."

St George or Mari Ghergis is the most popular saint in Egypt where he is associated with El Khider, the green man, who appears to travellers who are lost or in despair. On his birthday, Copts and Muslims travel to his tomb at Armant to celebrate. It is believed that he evolved from images of Isis, spearing her evil brother Seth, who turned himself into a hippopotamus and hidden under the waves. Or perhaps the monster under the water is the rising of the water itself, the seasonal flooding of the Nile. [Morrow]

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press, 1999
Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology & Legend, Maria Leach, editor, Harper and Row 1984
Morrow, Susan Brind, The Names of Things, Riverhead 1997
Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994
Spicer, Dorothy Gladys, The Book of Festivals, The Woman's Press 1937

April 23 Vinalia
There are two Roman Vinalias (wine festivals), this one in spring and another in summer (Aug 19). On this day, tThe first draught of wine stored the previous autumn was poured in honor of Jupiter.

This was also the dedication day of a temple dedicated to Venus Erycina, the Venus (actually the Phoenician love goddess, Astarte) served by sacred prosititutes on Mount San Giuliano in Sicily. Ovid urged the "ladies of a liberal profession" to honor Venus: "Offer incense and pray for beauty and popular favour; pray to be charming and witty; give to the Queen her own myrtle and the mint she loves, and bands of rushes hid in clustered roses."

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press, 1999
Durdin-Robertson, Lawrence,
The Year of the Goddess, Aquarian Press 1990

April 23 Secretaries Day
The whole month of April has now been designated as National Administrative Professional/Support Staff Week, expanding from the earlier definition of the Wednesday of the last full week in April as designated as Secretaries Day, perhaps to provide secretaries with a welcome day off during a month with no other paid holidays. Having spent a large portion of my working life as a secretary, I always advocate for the honoring of this often overlooked and underestimated profession. Secretaries will get another chance to celebrate on August 25th, the feast day of their patron saint, St Genesius of Arles.

April 24 St Mark's Eve
The evening before St. Mark's Day was a time of divination related to death. There was a belief in old England that if you wanted to know who was going to die during the coming year, you should stay on the church porch from eleven o'clock to one on this night and you would see the spirits of the doomed passing into the church. Some said this process had to be repeated for three years before it worked. If you saw your own double or fell asleep, you would certainly die within the year.

According to Rufus, women and girls would get together on this night and make a "dumb" cake, in total silence. At the stroke of midnight they would eat the cake in silence, then go home and climb into bed backwards to dream of a future mate. (Rituals similar to those enacted on St Agnes Eve (see January 21)). But if you were destined to die unmarried, you'd dream of a newly dug grave.

Kightly, Charles, The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames & Hudson 1987
Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

April 24 Sumarmal
The Thursday between the 20th and the 26th (originally between the 9th and 15th of April Old Style) was considered the start of summer in Iceland and was marked by a week of feasts and religious rituals. Vikings who had been cooped up all winter burst forth ready to begin raiding again.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press, 1999
Davidson, Hilda, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe

St George

Attis

April 25 St Mark's Day
In Hungary on this day people go to the wheat fields to bless the future bread and carry home a sheaf of wheat.

In Spain, young men used to go out on the eve of St Mark's to look for a wild bull who becomes very mild and obedient when called Marco. On this day the bull is paraded through the street, adorned with garlands and with bread loaves on his horns. Women especially were devoted to him. Pope Clement complained about this custom in 1598 and it had died out by the 20th century. The bull was said to be very calm during the Mass but became ferocious afterwards and ran back to the hills. The women, the bull, the temple and the wine, all suggest the rites of Dionysos.

St Mark is the patron saint of Venice and in his honor, the Venetians make rise bise on this day, creamy rice cooked with the first green peas of the season.

Field, Carol, Celebrating Italy, William Morrow 1990
Spicer, Dorothy Gladys,
The Book of Festivals, The Womens Press 1937

April 25 Robigalia
A Roman festival asking for protection from robigus, a blight on the crops. Christians later adopted the idea of this festival for the Rogation Days (the three days preceding Ascension Thursday which falls on May 29 this year).

The Greeks at Rhodes honored Apollo of the Blight. In Rome, there was a temple to Robigus, the mildew god, three miles from Rome on the Via Claudia. According to Ovid, the priest at this temple would light an altar fire and offer the god incense and wine saying, "Thou scaly mildew, spare the sprouting grain…O let the crops…grow til they are ripe for the sickle. No feeble power is thine…Grip not the tender crops…Forestall the destroyer." A dog and sheep were sacrificed and thrown into the fire.

This was also the festival day of the boy prostitutes (puer lenonii).

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press, 1999
Rufus, Anneli,
The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

April 25 Arbor Day
The last Friday in April was set aside for the honoring and planting of trees. This holiday seems to have been displaced by Earth Day (see April 22).

April 27 St Zita
If you frequently misplace your keys, you probably need to know about St Zita, who is invoked for help finding keys, apparently because she was a sanctimonious Italian serving girl who frequently gave away her master's bread (and even his fur cloak) to beggars. Apparently she also misplaced his keys from time to time. During her ecstasies, angels baked her bread, so she is also the patron of bakers, housewives and servants.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press, 1999

April 27 Orthodox Easter
The Greek Orthodox church has a different way of calculating Easter than the Roman Catholic church. Easter is calculated according to the Julian calendar, not the Gregorian calendar. It must fall after Passover. And it is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after Spring Equinox.

This year Passover is quite late compared to Easter, since an extra lunar month of Adar appears in the Jewish calendar on leap years. So Greek Orthodox Easter is almost a month after the Roman Catholic Easter.

One of my most memorable spiritual experiences occurred during an Easter ceremony at a Greek Orthodox church (or perhaps it was Russian Orthodox—it was my high school Russian teacher who took a group of her students). I remember standing outside in the courtyard of a stone church at midnight, of being handed unlit candles, and then, at midnight, the priest brought the Paschal candle out into the darkness and the courtyard was quickly aglow with warm golden light as the fire was passed from candle to candle, along with the words, Christ has risen! He has truly risen!”

Gilbert Murray in his book on The Five Stages of Greek Religion opens it with the comment: “Anyone who has been in Greece at Easter time, especially among the most remote peasants, must have been struck by the emotion of suspense and excitement with which they wait for the announcement “Christos aneste,” Christ is risen!” and the response “Alethos aneste,” “He has really risen!” He considers it a relic from a pre-Christian past, when primitive man lingered in horrible anxiety wondering if Spring would ever come. But I have to say that emotion and suspense were present in that stone courtyard in Los Angeles in the late 1960’s and all of us knew spring was coming again.

For information on how Greek Easter is calculated and more information on how it is celebrated in Greece click here.

April 28 Floralia begins
The Romans began honored the Sabine goddess of blossoms and spring with six days of celebrations including games, pantomimes, plays and stripteases, which went on into the night illuminated by torchlight. Everyone wore their most colorful clothes and decked themselves and their animals in flowers. Goats and hares were let loose--they represented fertility and sexuality and Venus in her role as patroness of cultivated nature. Small vegetables (one imagines cucumbers and zucchinis) were distributed as fertility tokens. Flora represented the sexual aspect of plants, the attractiveness of the flowers, and was the matron of prostitutes.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press, 1999
Rufus, Anneli,
The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

April 28 Maimuna
At the end of the eight days of Passover, after a separation ceremony which marks the end of the holiday, Jews can go out and eat Chametz, the leavened food items which were forbidden during Passover, like ice cream and bread, or beer and pizza.

In North Africa, this holiday is called Maimuna. The evening meal features dairy foods symbolizing birth and fertility: milk, figs, ears of wheat, pancakes with butter or honey. The table is decorated with a live fish in a bowl (like the table for St. Joseph (see Mar 19) or Nawruz (see Mar 20) and a bowl of flour containing golden rings. The following day is devoted to picnics at beaches, fields and in cemeteries.

The striking similarity of Maimuna to No Rooz (celebrated on Spring Equinox in Persia) and its geographic location suggest that this is a hybrid holiday, an integration of the old Zoroastrian New Year celebration with the rituals of Passover.

Waskow, Arthur, Seasons of Our Joy, Beacon 1982

April 28 Rogation Days
An ancient Catholic festival (approved by the Council of Orleans in 511) which took place on the three days before Ascension. Possibly derived from the Roman Ambarvalia (see May 29).

In Belgium, the priest carries a cross and leads a procession around the fields, blessing the crops and praying for rain and abundant harvests. The litany of all saints is chanted, presumably invoking their assistance and protection.

Sometimes an altar was set up on a boundary-stone and Mass was said for the fruits of the earth. Whipping was often a part of the Rogationtide processions. I imagine people lashing out at each other with green branches. This custom is often equated with purification and fertility (as in the Lupercalia, see Feb 15), but it may also be a way of marking boundaries.

Urlin describes a Beating the Bounds ceremony from Lichfield in England which took place on Ascension Day. All the houses in the cathedral close were decorated with elm boughs and after morning service, everyone walked around the boundaries of the close, carrying elm boughs and beating the eight places where wells had once or still were situated. At each place, they listened to a reading and sang a verse of a hymn. At the end they piled all the elm boughs on the steps of the church and pronounced a Benediction (blessing).

During the Rogation Procession held in Poitiers, people threw special hard biscuits called casse-museau (jaw breaker) at each other. Larousse Gastronomique explains that they are made from a mixture of coarsely chopped almonds and curd cheese, which is rolled into a sausage shape, cooked, then cut into slices and returned to the oven; it is the double baking that produces the hard consistency. The idea of a mock battle conducted with food was also popular at Carnival when people threw blood oranges, sugar-coated almonds, beans, flowers and coriander seeds (rolled in flour or plaster and left to dry). People wore masks partly to protect their faces.

Lang, Jenifer Harvey, editor, Larousse Gastronomique, Crown 1984
Urlin, E, Festivals, Holy Days and Saints Days

April 29 Casse Canarie
In the Vodou tradition, it this time of the year which is associated with releasing and honoring the dead, as well as Halloween, directly across the Wheel of the Year. (This reminds me of the Greek belief (see Soul Saturday, April 19) that the dead are free to roam the earth from Holy Thursday until Whitsunday.) Practitioners of Vodou breaks jugsA ritual involving the breaking of jugs is performed to send the souls of those who have died in the past year to the land of the dead. See also April 30, Mange-les-Morts.

My information came from a website that no longer exists. This is the only link I can find that mentions the festival but does not provide information on how it is celebrated. If you can find a reference that does provide this information, please send it my way.

April 30 Mange-les-Morts
In the Vodou tradition, this is the day for feeding the dead, the family ancestors whose spirits reside in govis. See also Casse Canarie, April 29.

My information came from a website that no longer exists. This is the only link I can find that mentions the festival but does not provide information on how it is celebrated. If you can find a reference that does provide this information, please send it my way.

April 30 May Eve/Walpurgisnacht

Flora

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