On the day

This is my grand-daughter Opal’s birthday (an excellent day) and also National Grammar Day (a very odd occasion), always together on this date, and this year, it’s also a Saturday and the fourth day of Lent. On this date in Australia (which was yesterday here), the 2017 Sydney Mardi Gras Parade (billed as an LGBTI — I for intersex — pride celebration) happened. Yes, the Mardi Gras Parade was held four days after Shrove Tuesday  and on a Saturday — Mardi Gras the religious holiday, celebrated secularly as the culmination of a festival season, a day of wild indulgence before the religious season of Lent, a long period of “prayer, doing penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement, and self-denial” (link) before the Easter season.


Several themes here: a holiday as a single day or as a span of time; the span as centered on the day, as ending with the day, or as beginning on the day; the holiday as characterized officially, by religious, governmental, or similar practices, or as characterized secularly, by folk practices (typically, both are in play, but some holidays are almost entirely official in character, others almost entirely folk celebrations); the fixity of a holiday practice with respect to a particular date; and the relationship between the name of a holiday and any of the rest of these considerations: Oktoberfest and the month of October, Cinco de Mayo and May 5th, and, yes, Mardi Gras and Tuesday the day of the week.

Dates. Single-day (or weekend) holidays have dates fixed in various ways: on a specific date (Cinco de Mayo on May 5th, New Year’s Day on January 1st, Halloween on October 31st, Christmas on December 25th, Veterans / Armistice Day on November 11th); by a calculation based on the Gregorian calendar (US Thanksgiving on the 4th Thursday in November; MLK Day on the 3rd Monday in January, to maintain some connection to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s actual birthday, January 15th; Presidents Day on the 3rd Monday in February, to maintain connection to Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, on February 12th, and George Washington’s birthday, on February 22nd; San Francisco Pride on the last full weekend in June, to maintain some connection to Stonewall Day, June 28th); by a calculation based on the lunar calendar (Mardi Gras, Easter, Passover, Yom Kippur, Lunar New Year).

Sydney Mardi Gras is a complex case. It’s always on a Saturday, so the historical connection to Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday has been completely abandoned. I haven’t found a statement about how the event is scheduled, but it seems never to come before the religious holiday (I suppose the idea is never to halt a celebration before the rest of the world does), so it looks like the parade is the first Saturday after the religious holiday; the festival as a whole is officially February 17th to March 5th this year, with a number of events on this last day, including the Papa Party, featuring superheroes:


(There are some events all the way back to mid-January. Once the Christmas season is over, it’s time to gear up for Mardi Gras.)

Meanwhile, like other pride celebrations, it’s a political statement, an affirmation of identity, and also a really big party. A snapshot from 2014:


Events and holidays. A small sampling of events that are firmly scheduled on holidays, however the dates of the holidays are determined:

on New Year’s Day, January 1st: the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena CA, the Mummers Parade in Philadelphia PA

on Mardi Gras: the Mardi Gras Parade in New Orleans LA (though the Mardi Gras season starts as early as January 6th, when the Christmas season ends, and then ramps up to costume balls in the week before the actual day, after which the celebrations come to an end)

on Easter Sunday: the Easter Parade in NYC (and other cities)

on Thanksgiving Day: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC (and similar parades in some other cities)

Other events are more loosely connected to particular holidays, Cinco de Mayo parades, for instance, are often scheduled on days that are merely close to May 5th (for the convenience of the participants); similarly for Beggars (or Beggars’) Night with respect to Halloween; and of course Christmas events are scheduled all through the secular Christmas season (with almost none on Christmas Day itself).

Names. The folk celebration of Oktoberfest (in Bavaria and a number of other places) stretches over a period of time, almost always beginning well within September — in some places, taking place entirely within the month of September (when the weather is likely to be more suitable for eating and drinking outdoors). By this point, Oktoberfest is merely a conventional name for a particular kind of autumn festival, and ‘October” is no longer part of its meaning. Sydney Mardi Gras strikes me as similar: it’s just a conventional name for a Pride celebration that — no surprise — features revelry and happens to come sometime between early February and early March (late summer in Sydney). The revelry is only roughly similar to the historical traditions of Carnival (which variously involved costumes, masks, music-making, and dancing), and the timing reflects the dates of religious Mardi Gras (which falls between February 3rd and March 9th), but Sydney Mardi Gras grew out of Pride demonstrations, not Carnival traditions, so it’s more like San Francisco Pride with a lot of glitter than it is like Carnaval in Rio or Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

One Response to “On the day”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    Also, March Fourth can be read as March Forth — a date that exhorts us to act. And note that the March for Science is coming up on April 22nd.

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