When I was growing up Catholic, I saw the liturgical calendar hanging all over the place. It was a wheel rather than a list of months to be torn off. It marked all the important Catholic festivals and feast days. It was color coded – purple for somber times like Lent and Advent, bright reds and greens for Christmas, blood red for the Pentecost. Most of the calendar was a light grass-green and labeled “ordinary time”. Nothing much happened during ordinary time. This was after the feasts ended, after the presents had been put away, after the wrapping paper was thrown away. This was after the good candy was eaten, the odd jelly bean still shwoing up when you vacuumed. This was after the incense faded and the hum of of litanies had long since stilled in your brain. Ordinary time was supposed to be ordinary.
But it never was for me. I used to look at that calendar, my eyes going around and around the year, fascinated by the fact that as soon as you ended one feast the next was literally coming to your door, only to be followed by another on its heels. Given my love of folklore growing up, it wasn’t that big a stretch for me to overlay the Official Sanctioned Liturgical Calendar with pure magic…a ring dance of winter hags striking the ground with their staves, wolves with stars in their fur, ribbon-clad dancers singing to the Child, shaking roasts and handfuls of herbs. I
Instead of grids of ordered days, I saw crocuses growing around ancient veins deep underground, flaming maidens dragging the sun back from wherever he had gone, fairy kings and queens on white horses covered in silver bells (which you should never look too close at), roses springing up from the rocks, giant piles of wheat, green corn turning gold under a sickle moon, the first bite of autumn, sweet and tangy, apples growing heavy under the last summer sun, crisping brown and orange leaves and belly-swollen gourds, broken horse chestnut pods crunching, crisped now with frost, to be broken again at the hag’s steps…
Like the rounds we would sing in choir (slight echoes of cathedral air – I was and remain horribly susceptible to this), one line of music braided into the next, flowing back and forward to meet itself endlessly, the year circled around and around and around. No slice of that pie was ever empty to me. I kept a naturalist’s eye on the change of seasons around my home, always rushing to see the first signs of the old friends – colors of the forest I grew up in, smells, particular bends of light. No time was ever ordinary to me.
So now, I’m a woman. Nearly 36. I have just “made it through” another Yule, another Christmas. I can’t find that keen, almost painful joy I used to when I was very young. I can’t see the season through younger eyes. But I can find the wheel turning still. Even though I spend so much of my time ground down in the linear, I still keep an ear and eye cocked towards the forest and the sky. I still listen for the drums, I still breathe deep to find the bonfires’ scent.
I still watch for the fly-outs of birds coasting across the sky from one end of town to the other. I still listen for the warm early rain or the hawk-screech of the cold thundering down from the north. I still look for the swelling fruit, the reaching tendril, the deer’s flank. Even though so much of my time now is classed as “ordinary”, and everything is flat, grey, and complacent, the holidays never really ended for me. None of this is ordinary time.