Ash Wednesday – buy now!

Charles Cowling

Posted by Vale

Every age has a genius, a spirit, a particular character. The Victorians, for example, excelled at sentimentality and three volume novels, while, in ancient Greece, philosophers lounged on street corners making public nuisances of themselves.

But what of our own age? What do we do that defines us? There are lots of candidates of course, but one of them, surely, is our gift for making money out of our great days of ritual and celebration. Christmas of course; All Hallows, or Halloween, as it has become; but, to my mind, our greatest achievement is Easter. Who would have thought, even a few years ago, that you could start selling easter eggs not just before Lent, but before Christmas as well! No one could deny there is a sort of genius at work there.

You’d think that, by now, we’d have covered all the bases, but I think there are still some untapped opportunities. Take Ash Wednesday for example: it’s a quiet time of year (if you overlook the pre-Lenten easter eggs); it’s ancient, long pre-dating Christianity’s colonisation, and the fact that it involves death hasn’t hindered Halloween at all.

In fact it’s a fascinating day: if All Hallows reminds us about the spirits around us, Ash Wednesday challenges us to think about our own mortality. In the lovely words of the King James’ Bible, we are asked to:

‘Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return’ (Genesis 3/9)

And to reinforce the words our forehead’s are daubed with ash.

It’s a wise tradition. Stoics (those pesky Greeks again) said that thinking about our own ending made us less afraid of death. And wouldn’t we feel more keenly alive through the rest of the year if, on this one day, we stand alone on the shore of the wide world ‘and think – till love and fame to nothingness do sink’.

But, as the Hindus would say, this is Kali Yuga, the darkest of dark ages, and we have its spirit of to consider. So – wisdom aside – aren’t the commercial possibilities obvious? If we are thinking about our own death, isn’t Ash Wednesday the perfect day to think about pre-need funeral planning too?

Come on people, there’s a chance being missed here…

3 thoughts on “Ash Wednesday – buy now!

  1. Charles Cowling
    Vale

    I’m gald you like it GM. You’re right of course, I really don’t want to monetise the day – but it does seem to me that we have made monetisation the purpose of our celebrations, rather than the incidental benefit that they should be.

    By the way, there is an excellent piece about Ash Wednesday in the Guardian today, and an editorial too: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/mar/09/ash-wednesday-death-mortality-meaning


    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling
    gloria mundi

    Vale, thou art on a roll these last few days, verily. Also being a little naughty with your invitation to monetize (yuk!) Ash Wednesday. But it’s good to be reminded how useful Ash Wednesday could be to us, even – especially? – in this materialistic, secular age etc?


    Charles Cowling

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