Re-posted from March 29, 2013
Today is my birthday… sort of. You see I have three birthdays every year, a Viking, Christian and Jewish birthday. In the year I was born all three came on the same day: April 4, Good Friday and the eve/first day of the Jewish Pesach (Passover) week.
A person can be born on Christmas day and count on it always being December 25. My life has usually been a little less predictable than that, not the least of which is the story of my birth ‘trifecta’ day.
For clarity, I will briefly separate the component parts dating my birthdays. Rolled together they take on an air of complexity but in reality simply reflect a combination of many different ingredients, kind of like Indian cuisine, which becomes delightfully palatable when allowed to be what it is and trusted by all dinner guests to be divinely prepared. Though always substantially more, it is, however, never less than all its ingredients.
So what does Good Friday/Pesach and the Jewish/Christian/Viking head of the calendar and spiritual year mean for me today. What clues to celebration of life and inner freedom does it hold for all of us.
My three birthdays all converge on the same day only once every several centuries. Being unwilling to miss out on their separate flavours I am content to celebrate the unique aspect of each of them every year in their own profound and beautiful aspects. To my mind multiple birthdays rock, anyways.
My life began in tiny farm community just outside Uppsala Sweden that had been celebrating Påsk – Swedish for Easter (derived from Pesach) – by then for almost 900 years. The rest of Sweden had more readily adopted Christianity decades earlier. The core heart of the Viking culture, centered in Old Uppsala, just 10 miles beyond our farm, and radiating into the surrounding Uppland region, however, was more resistant to ceding to the new ways accompanying this ‘intrusive’ faith that had filtered into their country in the decades surrounding the turn of the first millennium. Some decades later, however, these local holdouts joined in with the rest of the country.
The Viking temple at the corner of our farm , where my paternal grandparents now rest, needed a new function and was conveniently re-designated and sanctioned as a church. Annual local Påsk celebrations subsequently commenced there, sometime during the 1100’s, marking the head of the Christian calendar.
Jumkil’s Kyrka, a Viking Temple Until the 1100’s, From the Corner of Our Farm (Photo http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jumkils_kyrka_-_kmb.16000200121636.jpg )
The first of my three birthdays, April 4, is shared with my Dad as we had the same earth arrival day. I call this my Viking birthday. As an eldest son I often consider how my Dad, himself an eldest son, passed on a readiness and understanding of life received from his Viking and devout Christian heritage to those in and beyond his family. I am also aware that this, in some aspect and on some level, is now mine to carry on as my Dad passed forward the baton some years ago.
Påsk in Sweden had its narrow aspects over its initial years when life was more uncertain and difficult and its people more pessimistic and seriously minded. Långfredagen –that is Long or Good Friday, also my Christian and second birthday- was an occasion, among other rites, for the devout householder to whip his spouse, children and servants for greater awareness and sobriety in preparation for the somber occasion and fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. Aroused in the heightened spiritual ethers emanating from overlapping Easter and Spring Solstice ritual celebrations, local ‘believers’ became inflamed to purge “Satan” from the community. He was most often “discovered” in the form of clairvoyant and telepathic women, who became known as a påskkärringar (Easter-bitches), and deemed to be witches in league with the very Deceiver himself, thus ‘deserving’ of most horrific barbarian ‘remedies’.
These grim practices and quests tended over time to be challenged and softened by the sheer joy of welcoming Spring’s delights, reborn once again. The beatings evolved into neighbours playfully switching each other with new Spring birch branches and leaves wishing each other good health and good fortune. The witches’ legacy has become a Halloween type celebration with Swedish children dressed as witches knocking on neighbours doors ‘spooking’ them to offer up sweets.
The church from 325 AD had arranged that the newly adopted Gregorian calendar would ensure that Easter Week would always come in the Spring culminating on Easter Sunday. This would fall on the Sunday following the first full moon after Spring Equinox. Some 800 years later and faithful to the tradition of their Jewish Lord and Saviour, the erstwhile Uppland Vikings and now newly minted Christians, embraced the themes and symbolism of a Middle Eastern people, and doubtlessly also former trading partners, the first of whom would not arrive in Sweden until some five hundred years after the conversion of the local Jumkil Viking temple to Christian purposes.
I was not born on one Jewish calendar day because before April 4th of that year was out it had actually become two Jewish calendar days straddling Nissan 14 and Nissan 15, 5708. This is my third, and my Jewish birthday. I said this would be a little complex – like an Indian meal, remember? – Actually it is no more complex than the fact that Western calendar days start at midnight and Jewish days at sundown.
Now, the 5708 part is easy; it is the continuous years since the traditional Jewish date of the creation of the earth that this Jewish calendar sets at 3761 BC.
That is easy of course unless you were Bishop Ussher and it also tends to be easier if you are a conservative Jew than if you are a conservative Christian. Let me explain. The Irish Bishop Ussher in the 1600’s, using the King James Bible, pinpointed creation to have occurred just before nightfall preceding October 23, 4004 BC, a date which still resonates more or less with conservative Christian scholars and their extended community – dinosaurs, geological fossil and carbon-14 dating notwithstanding.
Ussher’s rigid calculations of course assume 24 hour days, a point which even the most conservative Jewish scholar or believer would tend to concede as not being set in stone. This difference is mainly so because Jews are much less left brain oriented than their occidental neighbours in both matters of faith and understanding how life in general works. They also tend not to be troubled by the suggestion that the dates and space of history can logically be trumped by spirit.
This is not to say that the reliable seasonal point of the most important celebration of the year was any less important for the Jews than the Christians. Since these respective ‘top of the year’ holy days were indexed to the very same Spring moon, two of my birthdays happened to overlap.
For the Jews, Passover was the defining event of their history that transformed a million or two desperate, hardscrabbled offspring from a handful of quarrelsome sojourners in Egypt, into an epic nation en-route to their own Promised Land. The 29½ day lunar Jewish calendar month, unadjusted, would soon skew this glorious annual celebration time of new life and new beginnings to fall in the midst of the dark and cold of winter if not tweaked and indexed to both the moon and solar year of Spring Equinox. Thus, with several adjustments, the Jewish calendar became a Solilunar Calendar ensuring that my Jewish birthday of Nissan 14, would always fall on the first full moon after Spring Equinox.
There is a very important reason why this day has to fall on a full moon that I will disclose in my next blog. It has to do with the full moon, dangerous travel cross-country, at night, by foot without flashlights… for an emerging Jewish nation and, interestingly, coincident with full moon mandatory nighttime cross- country travel two millennia later by the ascendant Swedish Vikings…. to be continued