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UU holy days?


As a transfer candidate from the PC(USA) ministry, one of the things I struggle with is having a firm grasp on the “high holy days” of the UU liturgical calendar.

In the Christian tradition, there’s Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter, Pentecost, etc.  They roll around, one following another, year after year.  This is a cycle that makes sense to me, since I’ve travelled the Christian wheel for years.  The UU cycle, and the rituals included in it, are newer, and more elusive.

I worry that in my first UU congregation, I’ll get a phone call some Saturday, asking if I remember that the following day we’re celebrating some important ritual I’ve never heard of–or forgotten.

Now I know many congregations will soon “gather the waters,” but what other holy days and rituals do our congregations observe?  What do they mean, and when do they happen?  What is our calendar?

I asked these questions today in the UU Worship Lab on Facebook, and I’m looking forward to what the group members say.  I think I’ll make this a blogging project–starting with the gathering of the waters, a.k.a. “Water Communion.”


6 thoughts on “UU holy days?

  1. Scott Wells, at Boy in the Bands, has written about this a number of times on his blog. The most interesting post that he’s written on this topic from a historical perspective, I think, is this one:
    If you search his blog, you’ll find other posts on the topic, often with a lively discussion in the comments.

    Having worked in 7 different congregations, seems to me every congregation does it a little differently. But the following are *usually* safe bets: some kind of ingathering Sunday in early September; Thanksgiving; Christmas Eve; Easter; flower communion sometime in the spring; some kind of children’s Sunday in late spring (but some staunchly humanist congregations would skip Easter).

    • Thanks for the link, Dan. For the most part, this is a writing-as-learning project for me. I’ll poke around and see what else Scott has. It may help my disorientation to have some sense of where our rituals and holy days came from.

      The info about Children’s Day in June, connected to baptism or dedication, was interesting. One of the things I’ve come across here in Anchorage is the connection of Christmas to baptism/dedication–the “every night a child is born is a holy night” idea.

      Scott’s writing about holy days from a different perspective than I am, of course. I’m just trying to get my bearings, figure out what’s expected, learn the customs of a new culture. From what I’ve read of Scott’s work, he’s reconnecting with the more explicitly Christian parts of UU heritage (and mostly the second U). We’re almost inverse of each other.

      I also plan to use UUpdates–I remember quite a bit of blogging about holy days & rituals. Now it’s just a matter of going back, seeing what’s been said, and figuring out my own take on it.

  2. As for origins and meanings, it’s just like it is in any religion: “Somebody just made this stuff up.” 😉 No? And most of it within much less than a single century. My feel for it is that they have not yet been elevated to holy days but only to very-early-stage traditions. The “communions” use symbols to say, we are who we are in part because of the way we share of ourselves in community with each other: water, flower, fire, and bread ceremonies. There is holy potential. If we learn not to be frightened of ritual.

    • Hi, Paul. Part of what’s rumbling around in my mind about this is exactly what you say here–these are early-stage traditions we have as UUs. They don’t have that “we’ve been doing this for thousands of years” feel to them yet. As you said, maybe we’ll find the courage to engage in rituals that hold on to meaning over long periods of time, and engage in them seriously and with respect.

  3. Heather asked:
    “As a transfer candidate from the PC(USA) ministry, one of the things I struggle with is having a firm grasp on the “high holy days” of the UU liturgical calendar.”


    I don’t know if “high holy days” would be the phrase that many Unitarian Universalists would use to describe Water Communion or Flower Communion.

    But you may find what you’re looking for by doing a search for “liturgical calendar” on the web site.

    Here’s what I found:


    Holidays and Ceremonies

    Take care,

    • Hi, Steve. Thanks for the links–I had the first one (it’s one of the hyperlinks in this post), but the second one certainly provides a thorough framework. Excellent.

      As for “high holy days,” I mean than as “if I missed it, I’d be in trouble!” 🙂

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