Holy Holidays!: The Catholic Origins of Celebration


How did Sunday become the “Sabbath Day?” Why did St. Valentine become the patron saint of lovebirds? Most people happily participate in Mardi Gras, Halloween, and St. Patrick’s Day with very little knowledge of the origins and meanings of those celebrations. Greg Tobin unearths the religious roots of the seemingly secular, offering historical trivia and the sometimes bizarre origins of the days throughout the year that bring people together.

In these pages, readers will discover...

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Holy Holidays!: The Catholic Origins of Celebration

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How did Sunday become the “Sabbath Day?” Why did St. Valentine become the patron saint of lovebirds? Most people happily participate in Mardi Gras, Halloween, and St. Patrick’s Day with very little knowledge of the origins and meanings of those celebrations. Greg Tobin unearths the religious roots of the seemingly secular, offering historical trivia and the sometimes bizarre origins of the days throughout the year that bring people together.

In these pages, readers will discover that:

• Jesus was not born on Christmas Day.

• The Easter Bunny is a deeply pagan tradition that simply could 

      not be suppressed by the Church. Same with Easter eggs.

• Mother’s Day falls in early May, the month dedicated to Mary,

   the Mother of Christ and the Catholic symbol of motherhood.

• Saint Patrick is not only the patron saint of Ireland but also


and much more!

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In Holy Holiday! Greg Tobin gives us a veritable feast for the intellect, heart, and soul. Substantial, scholarly, yet very readable, even humorous, this book delivers an incredible amount of information, and even more inspiration." Dianne Traflet, J.D., S.T.D., author of Saint Edith Stein: A Spiritual Portrait and associate dean of the Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology, Seton Hall University

"Both readable and entertaining, Holy Holiday! uncovers facts and information that are often unknown or overlooked. Greg Tobin provides an invaluable insight to many liturgical and festive celebrations."—Dr. Francis Schüssler Fiorenza, Stillman Professor of Roman Catholic Theological Studies, Harvard Divinity School

"You probably know that Jesus most likely wasn't born on December 25th.  But do you know why we celebrate Christmas on that date?  Or why Easter Sunday seems to bounce around every year?  Even if you do, I'll bet you don't know why Mother's Day is in May.  These and many other cultural and religious curiosities are answered in Greg Tobin's fun, frank and fascinating new book, which you will find enjoyable no matter what day it is.—James Martin, SJ, author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything

Library Journal
Writing in a fashion similar to Michael P. Foley in Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Friday?, Tobin (Selecting the Pope: Uncovering the Mysteries of Papal Elections), who has written on Catholic issues for many years and has also authored religious novels, explores the origins of Catholic holidays according to the church's liturgical calendar. Starting with Advent and ending with Thanksgiving and Christ the King Sunday, Tobin capably describes each holiday, including its origin and adaptations to it that were made over the years. Since the book starts with the winter season, the question "Was Jesus really born at Christmas?" is answered by the second chapter, leaving readers to decide whether to read the rest of the book. But Tobin is engaging enough that most will continue. VERDICT Although the book is written with Catholics in mind, most of the holidays mentioned are celebrated by the general population; only toward the end does Tobin venture into information in which only devout Catholics will be interested. Catholic collections as well as most general collections will benefit from this engaging and readable book.—Holly Hebert, Brentwood Lib., TN
Kirkus Reviews

The origins of major Western holidays, from a Catholic perspective.

Former Catholic Advocate editor Tobin (Selecting the Pope: Uncovering the Mysteries of Papal Elections, 2003, etc.) makes the argument that virtually all aspects of the modern Western calendar are derived from Roman Catholic sources (with a good deal of help from pagan culture). Much of the information here is readily available elsewhere, but he does a service by collecting these facts into a single volume. Tobin begins with the start of the Christian liturgical year—Advent—and moves on to Christmas, tackling the book's title question (no, Jesus was apparentlynotborn on Christmas, as is now widely known). The author moves along chronologically through the year, treating both well-known holidays such as Easter and Thanksgiving,as well asless widely celebrated ones, such as Christ the King Sunday. Tobin provides interesting tidbits and trivia throughout, making for a quick, entertaining read. Along with an explanation of various holidays, the author explores the origin of the Gregorian Calendar. In all cases, Tobin brings his readers back to the Catholic perspective. For instance, when discussing Thanksgiving (which, he wryly points out, "is not a Catholic holy day, per se"), the author provides a family prayer for use around the Thanksgiving table, approved by the Catholic bishops of the United States. Tobin also devotes a chapter to the effects of the Second Vatican Council on the church calendar. Woven throughout the narrative are references to or reminders of how secular society has made use of various holidays for commercial means ("The greeting card, flower, and candy industries love, love, love St. Valentine, for he provides substantial cash flow in the first quarter of the year, the first major spending holiday after Christmas").

Nothing groundbreaking, but Tobin provides a light, fluffy, fun read.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780230104877
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2011
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Meet the Author

Greg Tobin is the author of several books on the Catholic Church. He was the editor of The Catholic Advocate, and during the April 2005 papal transition he appeared frequently on national radio and TV programs as an expert commentator on the popes and the papal election process. His books Selecting the Pope and Holy Father were widely used as authoritative resources on the subject and were quoted in the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, as well as the Associated Press. He lives in West Orange, NJ.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Part I Winter 1

Chapter 1 Advent 3

Chapter 2 Christmas 11

Chapter 3 New Year's, Epiphany, and Presentation 25

Chapter 4 St. Valentine's, St. Patrick's, and St. Joseph's Days 37

Essay: The Liturgical and Spiritual Year 47

Part II Spring 57

Chapter 5 Lent 59

Chapter 6 Holy Week and the Triduum 71

Chapter 7 Easter Sunday and Season 83

Chapter 8 Mother's Day and the Month of Mary 97

Essay: The Gregorian Calendar 107

Part III Summer 119

Chapter 9 Ascension, Pentecost, and Father's Day 121

Chapter 10 Ordinary Time 133

Chapter 11 Sacred and Secular Summer Holidays 143

Essay: The "Lord's Day" and Keeping it Holy 155

Part IV Fall 165

Chapter 12 Halloween 167

Chapter 13 Angels and Saints 179

Chapter 14 Thanksgiving and Christ the King Sunday 193

Essay: How the Second Vatican Council Changed the Church-and its Calendar 203

Afterword 211

Appendices 219

Acknowledgments 229

Bibliography 231

Index 233

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