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wholly happy day

Although our word “holiday” derives from the Old English hāligdæg (about 950 in Lindisfarne Gospels), a compound of hālig HOLY + dæg DAY,* most of our federally observed holidays in the US are not of the so-called holy variety. Of eleven holidays listed on the US Office of Personnel Management website, Christmas is the only one many Americans would consider holy. Nine others relate to our national history (with four specifically connected to war). Among them is today, Labor Day, a holiday that honors the contribution and achievements of our nation’s workers and has its roots in the shift of increased employment in the manufacturing sector and a corresponding decline in agricultural in the mid-1800s. A secular holiday indeed.

New Year’s Day, marking the transition from one year to the next, goes back thousands of years, with the current January 1 designation attributable to Julius Caesar’s revision of the calendar in 46 BC. I’d venture to say this one’s a bit more on the pagan side of things which, to be fair, some people do consider holy.

The word “whole” is closely related to hālig HOLY in the sense of something “that must be preserved whole or intact, that cannot be transgressed or violated.” It also meant “entire, unhurt, healthy.”* It’s easy to see the relationship between the two words “holiday” and “whole” and the connection with their common root. While time and usage always conspire to mold language and culture, I am routinely amazed at how far back meaning often goes.

By the late 1300s, an upcoming holiday could mean we were celebrating either a religious festival or a day of recreation. Clearly there’s plenty of overlap.

No matter how you observe and celebrate this Labor Day, or any other holiday be it federal, religious, cultural, family or personal, remember to take time to look around you and notice that which you consider holy. Look for the places and practices that you consider important to preserve, and honor them. Consider what should not be transgressed or violated, and care for that. Whether it’s a favorite family recipe, the health and welfare of bees and other pollinators, a particular prayer or promise, you continually have the choice to sanctify and celebrate meaningful moments, memories, people and places. You don’t need a holiday to notice what is holy in your world, but it’s surely as good a day as any other to celebrate what is joyful, beautiful and precious to you.

Do it today; do it every day.

Do it wholly.

* The Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, The H. W. Wilson Company, 1988


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