I guess I’m showing my age a little when I mention that I remember when we celebrated George Washington’s Birthday and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Looking it up I found out that it really only slowly became President’s Day after they had shifted the celebration of Washington’s birthday from February 22nd to the third Monday of February beginning in 1971 due to the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. Basically this act was meant to make federal holidays go to three day weekends instead of keeping the date and letting the day of the week it fell on fluctuate from year to year. The fact that Lincoln’s birthday is February 12th and so now this holiday would be between the two is one reason it began to be referred to as President’s Day instead of just Washington’s Birthday, another one is that businesses started advertising sales that way.
I have to admit that the Church has done similar things, moving some feast days from their date to the closest Sunday. Other holy days of obligation they have declared not holy days of obligation if they fall on a Monday or a Saturday. These can make life easier, not having those extra days that we are obligated to go to Mass, but we have to recognize that it does also diminish them. The Feast of the Ascension seems to get a lot less respect then it did when we celebrated Ascension Thursday. It doesn’t have to, but for most of us it naturally does.
Decreasing the significance of something in our lives, especially when it has to do with our faith, can be risky. It is easy to become just a little less holy than we used to be. But we also have to realize that there are some days that we have not changed like this. Christmas is still Dec. 25th, and Easter is still the Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon, I won’t go into the details of that but it manages to move Easter from March 22nd through April 25th. I think it would be much easier to just have the first Sunday of April or something like that, but we don’t, and I think that’s good.
The Feast of the Ascension is important and should be celebrated, but we realize it really doesn’t compare with Easter and Christmas. Having this difference in the respect or priority we give these different days is good, and hopefully we reflect that in our thoughts and actions too. When doing this we realize we have the easy option at times which is to simply decrease how we treat the day that has been moved, or we might recognize how this makes the exception for Christmas and Easter even more special and raise our treatment of them. This is up to us. When I was young almost all stores were closed on Sundays and you had to live your life accordingly. Now it is easy to get upset when anything isn’t open at all hours every day including Sunday. Whether this means we keep Sunday more holy or not is up to us. It was definitely more distinct of a day years ago, but that doesn’t mean we kept it as a day of rest or dedicated to God.
With President’s Day we now really don’t have only the day, but we have the whole extended weekend. Maybe we can treat more days, or all days, in a more holy manner?