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").

9 comments:

Jeff said...

Doug, I may be wrong about this but I've always thought that Water Communion and Flower Communion were UU-specific events. I've wondered too why we don't celebrate the merger, I've always wanted to. I think John Murray's arrival at Good Hope would make a good celebration too, I intended to write a play about it but got sidetracked with my schoolwork.

Doug Muder said...

I do mention the water and flower communions in the book, and we even have a date for the first flower communion: June 4, 1923 in Prague.

But even though congregations develop traditions around when they celebrate these rituals, they aren't uniform across the association the way a holiday would be.

I agree, John Murray is worth celebrating. Rather than his landing, I'd celebrate September 30, which is the day he preached his first sermon in the church Thomas Potter had built ten years before in anticipation of a Universalist preacher. For those who don't know the story -- the closest thing to a miracle story UUism has -- look here: www.murraygrove.org/heritage/pottermurray.html

Doug Muder said...

Erika Nonken, the public information assistant at the UUA, reports that the consolidation -- apparently something slightly different from a merger -- was organized on May 12, 1961 and became official May 15.

SC Universalist said...

my source (the first UUA directory) uses these words "On May 12, 1961 the first delegates organized the new Unitarian Universalist Association, and on May 15 it legally came into existence."

Steven R

kim said...

Those dates sound right -- i thought I remembered it being early summer.

We have been joking around for several years about making Servetus Day a holiday -- and celebrating it by having a barbeque. You might even find reference to the discussion on Beliefnet.

Tom Little said...

Hi Doug -

Maybe we're growing our holidays from the ground up. It seems a lot of congregations have their own "traditions" of repeating annual special events, although not necessarily celebrations of UU history.

Also, I don't think we have a truly shared image of where we come from (we often present our history in a kind of piecemeal way for those who have curiosity about it, rather than as an identity-defining story).

I think if we do evolve a strong and uniform calendar of holidays, that is more likely to arise organically out of things like the flower communion and water ceremony (which celebrate the present) than out of our history.

Tom Little said...

Hi Doug -

Maybe we're growing our holidays from the ground up. It seems a lot of congregations have their own "traditions" of repeating annual special events, although not necessarily celebrations of UU history.

Also, I don't think we have a truly shared image of where we come from (we often present our history in a kind of piecemeal way for those who have curiosity about it, rather than as an identity-defining story).

I think if we do evolve a strong and uniform calendar of holidays, that is more likely to arise organically out of things like the flower communion and water ceremony (which celebrate the present) than out of our history.

Anonymous said...

Doug-
How wonderful, a beginner UU Book! I started attending my local UU church in November and it's been a good home. However, the two UU books I"ve read aren't very linear; it's hard to follow the history. Your UU-FAQ was a big influence on my deciding to go to the UU church in my city. If you need any suggestions from a 'beginner' let me know!
my email is cam226 at hotmail dot com.

Christine

Hathery said...

We do Child Dedication, Flower Communion, and Coming of Age. I guess those aren't "holidays" persay, but they are traditions. :)