This Easter is the second major holiday I have spent in the UK.
Yes, I am calling Easter a 'major holiday' and I'll explain why. Unlike the US, there is no intentional line drawn between religion - Christianity, specifically - and the government. And no, the place is not overrun with zealots, either. Quite the contrary, in fact, as there are FAR fewer Christian extremists here than in the States and MUCH less of the division between the "types" of Christians. That fact alone says a lot to me about the nature of the religious culture in the United States...but that's not what this post is about. Or at least, not exactly. Allow me to explain.
Talking about religion isn't taboo here. Schools are required to have, among their core subjects, 'religious education' as a subject for at least the first six years of school. (http://curriculum.qca.org.uk/key-stages-1-and-2/subjects/religious-education/index.aspx ) When I say 'schools' I mean public schools. It is part of the National Curriculum. There isn't a big deal made about it...like no one sues the school district or anything.
Religious holidays are acknowledged for what they are as well. As I mentioned before, we are in the middle of a big one right now...Easter. Easter is celebrated with a four day weekend here. Good Friday and Easter Monday are Bank Holidays. People wish one another "Happy Easter" without reserve. Right now The Sons are in the middle of Easter Break...not spring break, but Easter Break. The entire country's school children are on Easter Break. Early this afternoon, when I went to the shops, the produce store was closing at 1:00. The bakery was closing at 2:00. The butcher shop wasn't even open. And it was all in honor of Good Friday.
I can't remember if I posted about Christmas here or not, so I'll give you a brief synopsis of what I observed. The collective holiday season here is called Christmas...not "the holidays." Unlike the US, people in public places wish each other a "happy Christmas," without reserve - and when I say public, I mean in the stores, or even on the news, and on the phone. I spoke to dozens of customer service reps during December as I set up our phone and satellite and such, and they all wished me "happy Christmas" and "merry Christmas" as we were hanging up. I can honestly say that NO ONE here wished me the innocuous "happy holidays," and the few times that I said it, I was looked at strangely. I think it would be safe to say that there isn't a need for those "Jesus is the reason for the season" bumper stickers. Jesus and His holidays are alive and well in England, and no one is offended by it, either.
Since I mentioned bumper stickers, I'll share with you something that impresses me about the way religion is handled here. (There is a segue in this...bear with me.) Now keep in mind that this is a very BROAD and sweeping generalization...nothing scientific or measurable, okay?
We have all seen the those metal outlines of a fish that people in the US mount on the rear of their car, to signify their Christianity. We've also seen the ones that are fish with legs, with "Darwin" inside of the fish body, to signify their belief in evolution. I would say that those two symbols are good examples of two opposing points of view among Christian Americans, wouldn't you?
In America, there are places where people still debate over the opposing views of Creationism (or the theory of Intelligent Design http://www.intelligentdesign.org/) and Evolution (http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/darwin_charles.shtml). Those who believe in Creationism think that Evolution is in direct opposition of what God has told us to be true, through the Bible. Those who believe in Evolution think that Creationism is a way to impose a religious view onto a scientific situation.
Again, this is a BROAD generalization here, okay?
In either case, they have chosen a "side," and for whatever reason, in the US, people are forced to take sides. Yes, I know, that is part of America, to have choices and options, to be able to take whatever side you want AND not have to fear persecution. I understand all of that and I am not being critical of it whatsoever. You won't find anyone who loves America more than me these days, trust me.
What I am saying, though, is that maybe we Americans can learn something from the British in this situation. There's no fighting about it. There are no divisions. No one has to take a side, no one sues the City Hall for nativity scenes...they don't let that kind of nonsense happen. Not Christian? Okay, no worries. Enjoy the time off of work. They just live and let live.
Remember, this is the country that gave us Charles Darwin. He could be perceived as the lightening rod for one of the major dividing points in America, couldn't he? Yet in this country of "Happy Easter" and "Merry Christmas" and religion taught in schools, there is also a tremendous reverence for Darwin. They celebrates him in a huge way. There's Darwin Day (http://darwinday.org/about/) and the national celebration of his 200th birthday this year. Most notably, Charles Darwin is buried at Westminster Abbey. Why is this most notable? Only the best of the best in Britain are buried there... including royalty such as Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, Edwards I, III and VI, Henrys III, V and VII, and people such as Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, and Geoffrey Chaucer. No small feat to be buried there. AND, it is considered the 'holiest' of churches here, like the mother of all cathedrals.
What is my point, you ask? (I get that a lot.) My point is that if a country as discerning as England can wish each other "Merry Christmas" and close banks for Good Friday, yet still exalt Darwin, then maybe we, as Americans, should lighten up and try to do the same. There are so many more important things to debate these days...much bigger fish to fry, so to speak.