It is the 1st of May 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Hey! It’s a brand-new season of the Christian History Almanac! If you’ve been listening recently, you know that our 3rd season has received a facelift. A few notes to start the season.
This show is always a work in progress… teachers should try to adjust and adapt and improve. This season we will have all the kinds of stories you are used to but with a twist. I’m going to be speaking a little more extemporaneously… not all the time, but enough so that the show will sound different at times when I want to break away from the script. We will have special days on the show for me to answer your specific questions. The format will not stay static.
The new song? That is a composition from 1919 by Ernest Seitz called “The World is Waiting for the Sunrise,” which is not only a great song (check our versions by Benny Goodman and Les Paul) but a peppy beat and of course… in more ways than one, the world is undoubtedly waiting for a sunrise.
Every day, you will get a story from the history of the church. I will be going back and revisiting some of the more important people and ideas. Still, I will continue to bring you new stories with our usual benediction at the end, never prerecorded. I say it to you and myself every day.
Ok… so, today is the 1st of May. Which, if you are listening to this show somewhere in Europe, you know as May Day. In fact, this was possibly one of the most widely celebrated and popular holidays across the Western World for millennia. May Day has its roots in an ancient Celtic celebration of darkness giving way to light. The Romans picked this up as Floralia, and then from the Middle Ages, it has been celebrated as May Day. It is worth noting that it would also have a healthy dose of imagery pertaining to fertility as a springtime celebration.
Mayday events included dancing around the Maypole, collecting flowers in a basket, and making wreaths. It was also a time for budding romance… or at least you may be introduced to your arranged spouse. So, merriment, a little romance perhaps, some people thought that the days were pervaded with inappropriate imagery… so, you know who hated this? Puritans. And oh, the stories they told about Mayday! So in America, this is one reason why we don’t celebrate Mayday. But there’s another reason too…
During the 19th century’s industrial revolution, worker’s rights were rightly pushed to the foreground as 12-hour workdays, six-day weeks, child labor, and dangerous working conditions. Long story short, the battle for labor rights would lead to strikes and violence against striking workers. “May Day” celebrations across the world were held in the late 1800s in honor of the worker. Grover Cleveland (real name Stephen) didn’t like the connection between labor and May Day protests and moved what we now call “Labor Day” to September.
After the Russian Revolution, May Day became associated with Communism in the eyes of many. This was enough for the Catholic Church to step in and see if they might find a way for Catholic Christians to observe the spirit of a holiday for workers but without the associated baggage.
And thus it was on this, the 1st of May in 1955, that Pope Pius XII declared the 1st of May the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. While he has a general feast in May, this particular day recognizes the father of Jesus and his vocation. Pope John Paul II wrote of this new feast day
“Human work, and especially manual labor, receive special prominence in the Gospel. Along with the humanity of the Son of God, work too has been taken up in the mystery of the Incarnation and has also been redeemed in a special way. At the workbench where he plied his trade together with Jesus, Joseph brought human work closer to the mystery of the redemption.”
So, what does this mean? You don’t have to be Catholic to recognize the holiness of work as seen in the life of Joseph and your labor. Secondly, the Catholic Church made a move, unlike the earlier Puritans. Instead of a culture war, the church offered a counter-cultural message that could resonate with workers regardless of their political affiliation. Today we remember Joseph, father of Jesus and a carpenter, who was given a second feast day on this the 1st of May in 1955.
The good word for today comes from the other side of the Reformation divide. This is Martin Luther on vocation.
“There is no true, basic difference between laymen and priests, princes and bishops, between religious and secular, except for the state of office and work, but not for the sake of status. They are all of the spiritual estate, all are truly priests, bishops, and popes. … they are all of one body of Christ the Head, and all members of one another.”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 1st of May 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a priest, a bishop, and a pope: Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis who learned about May Day from F. Scott Fitzgerald. You can catch us here every day, and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.