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The Catholic Origins of Holy Days, Holidays, and Every Day

by Greg Tobin

Pub Date: March 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-230-10487-7
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

The origins of major Western holidays, from a Catholic perspective.

Former Catholic Advocate editor Tobin (Selecting the Pope: Uncovering the Mysteries of Papal Elections, 2003, etc.) makes the argument that virtually all aspects of the modern Western calendar are derived from Roman Catholic sources (with a good deal of help from pagan culture). Much of the information here is readily available elsewhere, but he does a service by collecting these facts into a single volume. Tobin begins with the start of the Christian liturgical year—Advent—and moves on to Christmas, tackling the book’s title question (no, Jesus was apparently not born on Christmas, as is now widely known). The author moves along chronologically through the year, treating both well-known holidays such as Easter and Thanksgiving, as well as less widely celebrated ones, such as Christ the King Sunday. Tobin provides interesting tidbits and trivia throughout, making for a quick, entertaining read. Along with an explanation of various holidays, the author explores the origin of the Gregorian Calendar. In all cases, Tobin brings his readers back to the Catholic perspective. For instance, when discussing Thanksgiving (which, he wryly points out, “is not a Catholic holy day, per se”), the author provides a family prayer for use around the Thanksgiving table, approved by the Catholic bishops of the United States. Tobin also devotes a chapter to the effects of the Second Vatican Council on the church calendar. Woven throughout the narrative are references to or reminders of how secular society has made use of various holidays for commercial means (“The greeting card, flower, and candy industries love, love, love St. Valentine, for he provides substantial cash flow in the first quarter of the year, the first major spending holiday after Christmas”).

Nothing groundbreaking, but Tobin provides a light, fluffy, fun read.