Monday, May 15, 2006

Days, Months, and Special Periods (II, 15)

The celebration of particular days and special periods has long been a significant factor in maintaining the cohesion of human groups. We are all familiar with the role of the Christian and Jewish holidays in this regard. There are also national days. These tend to be joyous celebrations marking the founding of a country or some victory over its enemy. Others, such as Memorial Day in the United States, are more somber.

The value of some commemorations has been contested. Until recently both Italian Americans and some Hispanic groups celebrated Columbus Day in a wholly favorable sense. More recently, native Americans have protested this observance, regarding Christopher Columbus as the prime author of a long period of degradation to which they have been subjected.

The observance of a special time for gays and lesbians is relatively recent. The Stonewall Rebellion, protesting a police raid on a popular bar in New York’s Greenwich Village, took place over the weekend of June 27-30. It is now commemorated in many marches and parades, not only in the United States but abroad. These usually occur towards the end of June, but sometimes earlier in the month, to allow participants to attend more than one such event. In this way the entire month of June is given over to gay pride, at least some see it that way. In many countries, however, the day is June 28, since it was (just after midnight) on that date that the infamous raid began.

Another month is less well known in this context. In the US Gay History Month is observed in September.

Mid-twentieth-century America saw the prevalence of a curious urban legend, the notion that Thursday was National Fairy Day. As green was thought to be the color of gays, high school students took care not to wear that hue on Thursdays, lest they be stigmatized, correctly or not, as fairies. Oddly, in today’s Britain Thursday is associated with heterosexuality; Wednesday is the gay day of the week.

In Germany May 17 is regarded somewhat sardonically as a special day. The old paragraph in the penal code criminalizing same-sex conduct was numbered 175. In the continental system of reckoning 17.5 is equivalent to May 17. By an odd coincidence this is also the day that gay marriage came into force in Massachusetts (2004).

Many young people welcome Halloween an opportunity to dress up and, if desired, to be flamboyantly gay. While it is mainly heterosexual, Mardi Gras has something of the same function in New Orleans. Similar celebrations in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and Sydney in Australia are more thoroughly gay.

In some US cities November 1 is observed as the Day Without Art, in honor of those who have AIDS/HIV.

In emulation of Catholic calendars, in which a saint is assigned to each day, enterprising authors have created gay calendars, honoring a famous gay snd lesbian figures. This genre seems to have started in 1982, with Martin Greif’s The Gay Book of Days.

One more example, a sinister one, must be noted. That is Christmas Eve, December 24, when according to medieval legend the sodomites all had to die in order for Christ to be born. This bizarre claim is recorded, apparently for the first time in the Golden Legend of Jacobus of Varagine (thirteenth century). One would have thought that this evil notion would have been long forgotten. But it lingers: the legend was still accepted by an Orthodox Greek priest in 2004, who cited it in a warning of the dangers of tolerating homosexuality.


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