By Matt Horan

When speaking about the period from the 11th to the 15th centuries, the language of Great Britain is commonly known as “Middle English.”  There are some similarities with present day English, of course, but to understand someone speaking it today would be a challenge.

The word in the title, hāligdæg, comes from Middle English.  It was a combination of the word meaning “holy” and the word meaning “day.”  It referred to religious–usually Christian–commemorations such as Christmas, Easter, etc.  Just like holy means “set apart,” so these days held special significance for those seeking holiness.

This word has evolved into our current English word, “holiday.”  In America, we have several recognized holidays for which government offices and many businesses around the country close:

New Year’s Day
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Presidents’ Day
Memorial Day
Independence Day
Labor Day
Columbus Day
Veterans Day
Thanksgiving Day
Christmas Day

We also have others.  They don’t rise to the level of closing things down, but they clamor for commemoration as well.

Mothers’ Day
Fathers’ Day
Groundhog Day
Flag Day
St. Patrick’s Day
St. Valentine’s Day

I’ve been wrestling with this lately.  The “holy” part of the Middle English “Hāligdæg” is long diluted, replaced with commemorations unrelated to the worship of God.  So, what place do these “holidays” have in a Sunday morning service of worship?  The truth is that some in attendance will be angered if what happens in worship does not give what they consider an adequate deference to some of these, such as Mothers’ Day or Fathers’ Day.  We’ll surely hear it if the virtues of America are not adequately mentioned on Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day.  So what is appropriate?  There are many opinions out there to choose from.  (Frederick Douglass’ is particularly interesting!)  This Sunday preachers around the country will argue that America should be a Christian nation.  Others will disagree, preferring that the church be a prophetic voice against it’s host nation wherever it is.

The most disheartening thing about worship planning is when we come upon a Sunday when we worry about keeping people happy.  Whatever churches do this Sunday, I hope they don’t waste time worrying about that.  Jesus sure didn’t.

  1. Justin says:

    Churches worry because they have become institutions which must strive to preserve themselves; so they get nervous because they might bite the hand that feeds them. Power, prestige and possession are the temptations in the desert and the church by its very nature is intertwined with all three.


  2. Chad Holtz says:

    Great article. I like how you reference the Middle English word – I had not heard that before.

    As for worrying, it is on weekends like these that I thank God I’m a Methodist 🙂 Our appointment system, though not without it’s own problems, does give me some liberty when I take the pulpit.

    thanks for the referral!


  3. […] moreover visit a sacrosanct place of love. Without a doubt, it’s from the Old English word hāligdæg (magnificent day) that “event” […]


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