There’s a restaurant I visit occasionally that plays Happy Birthday in their restrooms. Do you know why?
During the height of Covid, washing your hands became even more important than normal. But how long should you wash your hands? Turns out the answer is around 20 seconds, which is also about the time it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song twice.
So Happy Birthday plays, and in several different languages — English, French, German, and perhaps more, but the melody is the same. That makes it fun, keeps you washing your hands, and also reminds you that people celebrate birthdays all over the world.
While birthdays are big everywhere, they are still mostly celebrated with only close friends and family even being aware. Unless you are famous or on Facebook.
Get famous enough, and people celebrate your birthday even after you die. Such is the case in America for a very long list of people, from George Washington — Washington’s Birthday is still the official federal name for Presidents’ Day — to Martin Luther King Jr.
There is only one person, though, whose birthday is celebrated around the world — Jesus. We celebrate his birthday on December 25 and call it Christmas, mostly.
A lot of what we think of as holidays are actually observances. Groundhog Day fits that category. So do National Wear Red Day, Valentine’s Day (Which of those two sees more red?), Tax Day, and National Day of Prayer. (Which of those two prompts more prayer?)
In various states the birthdays of Robert E. Lee, Rosa Parks, Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama, Elizabeth Peratrovich, Harry Truman, and Jefferson Davis are celebrated. One or more of those might make you say, “Hmmm…”
In Wyoming Estelle Reel Day is observed, in California Ronald Reagan Day, and in Hawaii Father Damien Day.
Almost all of those celebrations are held on the anniversary of the person’s birth. One that is not on a birthday is Father Damien Day. He is honored on the day of his death, having willingly given his life for a group of people who lived on the Hawaiian island of Molokai.
They all suffered from leprosy, and he ministered to them both spiritually and medically. Living in the leper colony for 11 years, he contracted the highly contagious disease himself. Five years later, on April 15, 1889 at the age of 49, the Belgian priest died.
Earlier I mentioned the world-wide celebration of the birthday of Jesus on December 25 each year.
While not quite picked out of a hat, that is a very unlikely date for Jesus’ birth. But there it is, and it is not going to be changed any time soon.
Christians, and some others, also remember the day of Jesus’ death. It is called Good Friday because we know from history that Jesus died on a Friday, and in fact this article is being posted on Good Friday, 2023.
There are perhaps others, but the only two individual people I found whose deaths are celebrated were Father Damien, who gave his life serving several thousand, and Jesus, who gave his life as a sacrifice for billions.
It was a loss for the people of Molokai when Father Damien died, and they knew it. When Jesus died, those closest to him also thought they had experienced an unrecoverable loss. They learned soon, though, that they had not lost Jesus after all.
Jewish law required the keeping of the Sabbath, which is the seventh day of the week. We call that day Saturday. No work could be done from sundown to sundown.
So what did the followers of Jesus do on Saturday? Not much. They waited, they worried, they hid, they wondered.
The Sabbath was over and it was light when the sun rose on Sunday. Some of the women who followed Jesus went to care for his body but found that the stone had been rolled away and that Jesus was not there. The simple, profound, miraculous reason was that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
This is not a mystery to be solved, it is a miracle to be believed or rejected. If it is true, it changes everything. For centuries now, adding up to more than 2,000 years, many have believed it. The Bible says that Jesus actually appeared to more than 500 people, so there were plenty of witnesses if you think them credible.
Still, the resurrection can only be believed through faith. Logic and history might take you far, but not all the way there. I’m not here to convince you, though I’m a “believer.” That is something everyone has to come to grips with on their own.
Other oddities about Easter
Easter is the culmination of a week of observances. Palm Sunday, one week before, is when people remember that Jesus came into Jerusalem in triumph. He was honored by the crowds with their words and actions.
On Thursday he washed the feet of his closest followers and gave them a new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Some call the day Maundy Thursday. Maundy refers to the word mandate, or command. That is followed, as we’ve noted, by Good Friday.
But perhaps the greatest oddity about this holiday — in old English the word was “Holy day” — is not the preparation of our hearts leading up to it.
It is that Jesus, according to the Bible, spent the days immediately before his crucifixion preparing his followers for what was to come. He was going to die, he said, but he was also going to live again.
The wonders of Easter are numerous. Christmas is second perhaps, because without it there would be no Easter. But the incredible hope that people around the world find in Easter is unique to the day of resurrection.
I hope you enjoy Easter egg hunts and marvelous meals on Sunday. But please do good for yourself by taking some time to ponder the amazing oddities and blessings of the most unique holiday in human history.