Here, Gentle Reader, is a small miracle for you to ponder. Jesus, somehow, managed to die on a day whose anniversary changes from one year to the next. Since this would seem, on the face of it, to be completely impossible, it must—must it not?—be a bona fide miracle.
Hallelujah, this is the evidence I have long been seeking, and I have seen the light!
Or possibly not.
Anyways, this post isn't really about Good Friday. Or rather it is, but only in a tangential kind of way. One of my many (rather petty) grievances with culture is the way it treats history as if only three hundred and sixty-five notable things have ever happened. On November the 22nd, Kennedy was killed. On November the 5th Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the king and Parliament (and I'm still not sure whether we're celebrating his failure or lamenting it when we gather with our tooth-breaking toffee and our damp fireworks). May the 8th: victory in Europe. July the 20th: Armstrong planted his 91⁄2B into the soil of the Sea of Tranquillity. December the 25th: a woman named Mary gave birth to a child conceived in an adulterous relationship with the creator of the universe. And so on.
It's not, I should hasten to mention, that those events (with the possible exception of the last one) aren't important things to remember. Nor is it that anyone is telling us (with the definite exception of the last one) that we must observe those remembrances and only those remembrances. It's just that, year after year, the major focus is placed on the same events, over and over again, as if those events are the only things that ever happened on those dates.
Well—obviously—it just ain't so.
November the 22nd, for instance, is the anniversary of the 1307 papal bull ordering the arrest of the Templars. On November the 5th 1955 the Vienna Opera, rebuilt following its WW2 destruction, reopened with a performance of Fidelio. On May the 8th 1980, the World Health Organisation confirmed the eradication of smallpox. (So named, by the way, because there was, amongst other poxes (When Shakespeare says—as he does at least twice to my knowledge—"A pox on't," he really does mean the indefinite article literally.), a Great Pox—syphilis.) On July 20th 1968 the first International Special Olympics Summer Games were held in Chicago. And in 1066 on December the 25th a certain Duke of Normandy, by the name of William the Bastard, was crowned king of England.
So what else, apart from Jesus dying/not dying has happened on the 25th of March? Well, just to name a few…
- According to legend, Venice was founded, in 421. History fails to record when it had been losted. (Sorry!)
- Famous troglodyte arachnophile, Robert the Bruce was crowned king of Scotland in 1306.
- In 1584 Sir Walter Raleigh was granted a patent to colonize Virginia.
- Christiaan Huygens discovered Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, in 1655. (The following year, Huygens would invent the pendulum clock.)
- In 1807 the trading of slaves was abolished in the British Empire. (Not to be confused with the ownership of slaves, which was abolished in 1833.)
- Did you know that the first passenger-carrying railway in the world used horse-drawn carriages? The Swansea and Mumbles Railway (at the time called the Oystermouth Railway) began a passenger-service in 1807.
- In 1811 Percy Bysshe Shelley published The Necessity Of Atheism. And was promptly expelled from Oxford University for doing so.
- This one's actually a tad topical. The EEC was formally signed into being in 1957. It replaced the European Coal and Steel Community, which had been formed in 1951 to help prevent war by uniting various European countries and to control the production of steel and coal, so as to prevent those staple war-supplies being misused.
- Also sadly topical, on this day in 1975, the National Front held an anti-Europe rally in Islington. Unlike an anti-immigration NF rally in Holborn the previous year however—where one counter-protester had been killed and many were injured—this one was thankfully free from violence.
- WikiWikiWeb, the world's first wiki, was launched in 1995.
Some notable births on this date include:
- 1538: Christopher Clavius, who, amongst other things, did much of the work which gave us the Gregorian calendar.
- 1881: Béla Bartók, the Hungarian pianist and composer.
- 1906: A. J. P. Taylor, the historian and, possibly more importantly, populariser of history.
- 1912: Melita Norwood, a spy who passed British state secrets to the Russians for forty years, from 1937 onwards. She has been described as "the most important female agent ever recruited by the USSR." While I'm no expert on such things, I'd say that time-span would make her one of the most successful spies ever, or certainly in modern history, regardless of gender or nationality.
- 1928: Jim Lovell, the astronaut.
- 1934: Gloria Steinem, the noted feminist.
- 1934: Johnny Burnette. Well, it's notable to me.
- 1942: Aretha Franklin. Need I say more?
- 1947: Elton John. Ditto.
March the 25th is Cultural Worker's Day in Russia. With all the nasty and depressing news which comes out of that country, it's a nice change to note that they have a day dedicated to "professionals working in various fields of art and culture, like workers of [sic] libraries, museums, theaters, concert organizations, cultural centers, clubs."
In England, from 1155 to 1752, March the 25th was the official first day of the year. Adjusting to the Gregorian calendar, that day would become April the 6th, which is, to this day, the start of the UK's tax-year.
March the 25th is the UN International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. I don't know if that's related to the aforementioned English ban on the trading of slaves, or if it's just a coincidence. But it's a far more important remembrance, in my opinion, than that of the death-by-torture of some bloke who never said a word against slavery; who, indeed, promoted the horrible idea that a pie-in-the-sky "afterlife" is more important than very real suffering in this, the only life we can prove to be real.
And it's also Tolkien Reading Day; an event thought up by—who else?—The Tolkien Society, to promote the use of J.R.R.'s works in education and library groups. Frankly, my main memory of his best-known works is that I thought the chap could have done with a more forceful editor, but I realise I'm in something of a minority on this one.
So yes, this year March the 25th is Good Friday, on which Jesus may or may not have been tortured to death. But it's also Venice Day, Clavius Day, Titan Day, Steinem Day and many other Days besides.
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