Friday, April 30, 2010

Administrative Holiday

It's that day again - "where does the time go?", you might well ask.

Of course, just what the meaning of this day depends on the beholder. Here in the noble city of Louisville, this is Oaks Day, which means it's Churchill Downs' annual Grade I stakes race for three-year-old Thoroughbred fillies. But more importantly, it means an excuse to have a pre-Derby celebration and start drinkin' early. Many workplaces and even schools take off for Oaks Day, but no one declares that the holiday is explicitly because of the Oaks, of course - most simply say it is an "administrative holiday."

For others, April 30 means Walpurgis Night (Walpurgisnacht). It's a traditional religious holiday of pre-Christian origin, celebrated by Christian as well as non-Christian communities, past the stroke of midnight and through "The Door Into Summer" - May Day, the beginning of the new season. It's probably the one day of the year that Catholics, pagans, witches, Satanists, and anarchists all almost see eye-to-eye.

Walpurgisnacht is named for Saint Walpurga. The earliest representation of Walpurga, from the early 11th century, depicts her holding stylized stalks of grain. The grain attribute has been interpreted as identifying Walpurga as a Christianized protectress of the grain, the Grain Mother. Farmers fashioned her image in a corn dolly at harvest time, and from this tradition also comes the real origin of the Scarecrow figure in the fields - scaring birds was never its original intention.

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