Christi Himmelfahrt May 25, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Although I was christened at the tender age of three weeks, I must say I was none the wiser that today was Christi Himmelfahrt until the cashier in my local supermarket wished me a happy holiday yesterday. I, naturally, assumed she just hadn’t taken her lithium or that it was a sneering snide at my only having purchased a packet of fags, and it was dangerously close to the 8pm closing time, but thanked her for her kind words anyway. Holiday? On a Thursday? In late May? You mad old brush. But then a beautiful friend – hereinafter known as the beautiful friend (tbf), perhaps – told me yesterday that today was indeed Christi Himmelfahrt and that folk would be driving round town on their bikes with a siphon coming out of their backpacks delivering beer straight to where it’s meant to go. Which doesn’t sound very religious to me, but then if gorging at Christmas and Easter does the trick, why not at Christi Himmelfahrt too?
I didn’t have a clue what Christi Himmelfahrt translated to either until about 14 seconds ago when I whipped my hefty dictionary out. I’d noticed the word Himmelfahrt before, because, down to a little bit of linguistic autism, I’d noticed there was another feast day called Mariä Himmelfahrt and it’s not often you get an umlaut on the end of a word. (Unless you have the good fortune to be a Finn, of course. When it’s not really an umlaut anyway.) (Quick Finnish lesson: ‘night’ is ‘yö’, pronounced oo-er, only a hundred times quicker.) Turns out that Himmelfahrt means ‘ascension into heaven’, and today is, thus, Ascension Day. The Mariä variation on the theme – just remembered a story. A Russian child I worked with once commented on the difference between two versions of a prayer. Once he’d clocked it, he summed up for my benefit, “Ah, so that’s the Catholic remix of the Orthodox one,” – is Assumption, although I don’t know what was assumed when Mary made her way skywards. (I suppose she assumed, rightly, for there had been plenty of portentous omens, that she’d have a very privileged position when she got there. But I’ll have to go into scripture in greater depth to see if that’s the actual cause.)
Now I thought I knew my Christianity. I am not a Christian any more, but I went to a Christian school. We had a service once a week. We had RE lessons. I got my RE ‘O’ Level. (Grade C, but still.) I thought I knew my Pentecost from my Whitsun from my Himmelfahrts. But I just simply don’t. Awash in 2000 years of Christian culture and I don’t know my arse from my elbow. Which I won’t lose much sleep over, but I have been worrying that this ascension took place 40 days after Easter. So what happened in between? I thought Christ went off to be at the right hand of the father as soon as he was resurrected. Or did the 40 days in the wilderness come then, which seems a bit like rubbing in the cruelty, if you ask me.
My ignorance pales into insignificance, though, when I compare myself to our cousins outre-Manche. I lived in Paris for a couple of years when just a slip of a thing and stayed with an extremely nice family when I first arrived. Extremely nice. Fucking unglaublichly nice, actually. (I was just checking if I could reduce myself to tears. I can’t.) France, being an avowedly secular place, obviously wouldn’t have a Christian assembly at the start of the school day. No, if you wanted god in France, you had to go to a specifically religious school. And the family I lived with were atheists anyway. And one half – the wrong half – was Jewish, so this family seriously didn’t know its Christianity. This didn’t concern me overly much, but I was pretty stunned when, as we watched TV one evening and Serge Gainsbourg’s interesting take on the Nativity was shown, the younger daughter of the family asked me, “So who was that Joseph geezer then?” I’m not expecting any Happy Ascension wishes from her, let me tell you.
But why I’ve really noticed Christi Himmelfahrt is because it’s made me feel normal. It’s a non-working day here, and I’m on an enforced holiday with the rest of the populace (98% of whom are unemployed anyway). I’m awaiting a piece if work, thought I’d have it today, the deadline is short for my depleted grey matter and a family occasion beckons in the Kingdom this weekend. And my employers have gone and slunk off work for the day. And I bet there’s not a Christian amongst them. The shower…
(Utterly random joke, told to me by tbf’s (German) friend yesterday. “What do you call a miserable German?” “I don’t know, tbf’s friend, what do you call a miserable German?” “Sauerkraut” Boom boom.)