We Still Need Holy Days

Latest editorial by Mal Fletcher
Posted on: Monday 2 April 2018

Like Christmas, the Easter season seems to become ever more commercialised.

For some time, important cultural symbols and historical events seem to have become steadily more commodified. Holidays have been stripped of their importance as holy days.

This is no new phenomenon, as sales of seasonal music tracks like "White Christmas" will attest.

Arguably, though, it reached new levels when our culture began to turn people into marketed commodities.

From the middle of the twentieth century, celebrities regularly endorsed brands via the electronic media and press. Later, though, celebrities actually became brands. In the 1980s, Madonna was not primarily the name of a music artist; it was (and is) a brand.

The power of personal branding allows record companies to sell - sometimes by the truckload - albums by artists such as Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson long after their demise.

However, in the wake of the digital revolution, millions of ordinary people now aspire to move beyond consuming brands to becoming brands in their own right.

We don’t seem to mind that our carefully crafted brands, promoted and maintained via social media, make money for nobody except a handful of billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg. 

Having branded ourselves, we then think nothing of taking the same approach with important holy days, like Christmas and Easter. Consequently, they’ve become little more than opportunities to buy and sell.

As we lose sight of their symbolic importance, their inherent power to remind us of long-held traditions and proven values, our culture arguably grows poorer and more confused as a result.

By reducing the significance of holy days, we surrender important opportunities for reflection, both as individuals and communities.

Holy days once gave people the chance to escape prosaic day-to-day concerns - and their often hand-to-mouth working lives - to reflect upon higher things. Holy days were so-called because to be holy means to be set apart.

Today, we like to think of ours as a secular culture which has no need of outmoded concepts like holiness. Yet we need times of reflection more than ever.

Surrounded as we are by content and “big data”, we have precious little time to develop a sense of context, or to discover a sense of transcendent meaning.

Forty percent of children in the UK who own a smartphone are sleep deprived. Ninety percent of top London business leaders say they will answer an email or text at any time, day or night.

Perhaps not surprisingly, 30 percent of those leaders believe that they can continue at their present levels of stress for just another two to three years.

We may be proud of our ability to multiscreen, but our brains need downtime as much as those of our grandparents.

Meanwhile, at a time when screens mediate so many of our closest relationships, we desperately we need time to sit and eyeball one another.

In an age of growing machine automation, we need to take every opportunity to preserve our human autonomy. Like Christmas, Easter provides a rare opportunity to do just that.

We also need to consider the important values that Easter represents.

The Easter story, focused as it is around the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, speaks of self-sacrifice. It reminds us of the importance of going beyond self-interest to act for the common good.

We struggle to achieve social cohesion today not primarily because we live in a multicultural society. It is because we often lead self-occupied lives, with little time for interaction with our communities and scant interest in promoting the common good.

Easter also speaks of hope, renewal and redemption - the idea that no matter who we are, a second chance is possible. Our past need not dictate our future.

These are important values which have played a crucial role in helping to shape our cultural ethics and aspirations for generations. 

For me, as a person of Christian faith, Easter comes replete with a whole range of important reminders. It brings to mind some of my struggles and my need of redemption, but it also reminds me of a higher grace that can lift any of us from the mud and plant our feet on solid ground.

Whether we identify as Christian or not, though, Easter potentially provides a “holy” time - an opportunity for greater reflection and a reconnection with worthy priorities.