Friday, February 16, 2007

Research Question: UU's and Holidays

As some of you already know, I'm working on a book for Skinner Press. It's a beginners guide to UUism, which is supposed to be engaging, funny, and very very basic. I think the UU-FAQ I did on this blog last year helped me get the gig. That and the fact that I've written Dummies books in the past -- though my editor informed me this week that I should never, never, call this a "UU for Dummies" book, even in jest. It's turning out to be a whole lot harder than I thought it would be. You know how everybody talks about having your UU "elevator speech" handy? Well, this is an elevator book.

Anyway, I'm writing the section on the UU church year and the following question comes up: Why aren't there any UU-specific holidays? OK, I realize we can't celebrate the birthday of Unitarius or the day Channing parted the Charles River. But we've got a lot of history we could celebrate. What about the Unitarian King John Sigismund proclaiming religious freedom in Transylvania via the Edict of Torda, which would fall somewhere in the second week of January? Or October 27, the day Michael Servetus was burned at the stake? I thought about Francis David's birthday, but nobody seems to know when it was.

I realized there was something weird going on when I thought about adding Merger Day to the list -- the day that the merger of the Unitarians and Universalists took effect. Seems significant, no? I spent about an hour googling and looking through reference books, and I can't find it. (I'm a pretty good googler, so an hour of my research time is a serious effort.) Everyone lists 1961 as the date of the merger, but what day? It was a legal and contractual event, so it had to have a closing date. You'd think somebody would have written it down somewhere. It's almost as if we were trying not to create a holiday.

So what's up with that? I've got my theory, but it's speculative so I'd like to hear other suggestions. My theory is that as a syncretic tradition we rebel against the idea that we're a sect. The original Unitarians thought of themselves as recovering the pure Christianity, and our Humanist tradition likes to see itself as pulling together the underlying essence of the world's divergent religions -- the Golden Rule and all that. Creating our own holidays would be a sectarian thing, so it feels wrong.

But you know, like it or not, we are a sect. And we are a sect with identity issues, so a holiday or two would probably help. Ministers might think about preaching on this topic next Channing Day (May 5, the anniversary of the Baltimore sermon "Unitarian Christianity").