When Did People Stop Referring To The Liturgical Calendar In Everyday Life?

Maybe not everyone has, for all I know. I gather in some old schools they still refer to “Michaelmas Term.”

But in reading older books from the U.K. and its diaspora, there are references aplenty, among characters in purely secular settings, to “It was Michaelmas weekend . . .” or "I remember it all started around Septuagesima Sunday . . . "

Larkin’s Whitsun Weddings implies (especially given that I’m not aware of Larkin’s having much use for organized religion) that various now-obscure (to me, at least) feast days were still in demotic usage as convenient temporal/seasonal markers ca. 1960.

I don’t get the impression this was ever nearly as prevalent in N. America as in the more heavily Anglican provinces of the former Empire.

Anyone know when such references began to die out – or do you still have an awareness of, or mark time by, these feasts and seasons in your common speech?

Never, in the sense that ‘Christmas’ and ‘Easter’ remain in common use.

Beyond that, it depends, as some feast days retained secular functions for specific individual reasons. Let’s consider some of the ones you mentioned.

‘Whitsun’ continued to mean something until 1971 because the following day was a statutory public holiday (‘Bank Holiday’) throughout the UK (except Scotland). Since then only those confused members of an older generation for whom this is just more evidence of how everything has gone to Hell in a handcart might think of the holiday that replaced it - the last Monday in May - as the ‘Whitsun weekend’.

As you point out, some of the British universities (most notably Oxford, Cambridge, the historic Scottish universities and various Oxbridge wanabees) still have a ‘Michaelmas term’ and, although (just to be awkward) the names used vary, some of the other terms are also still named after religious festivals. This is partly bureaucratic inertia, but it is also because the traditional university terms don’t really coincide with anything convenient, such as the seasons of the year. For similar reasons, the English courts still have Michaelmas, Hilary, Easter and Trinity terms/sittings. No one, on the other hand, now uses ‘Michaelmas’ in everyday speech to mean the particular day.

Any common knowledge that there is a liturgical calendar, never mind knowing when the particular days are, no doubt died with the general collapse in weekly church attendance. Having said that, when weekly church attendance in the UK did collapse is now a matter of heated debate among historians. It’s not as obvious issue as you might think. What can probably be said is that by the early twentieth century there were enough people, particularly men, who didn’t attend church each week to make it uncertain that such references would be understood. Indeed, many of those references had probably sounded rather arch and old-fashioned long before then.

Indeed. Cambridge has Michaelmas, Lent and Easter Terms. Which are more or less immovable terms of 8 week duration. I remember on a couple of occasions, when Easter’s been late, Easter weekend either being in Easter term (and no, we didn’t get the bank holidays off), or Easter weekend being the weekend you were required to be back in Cambridge by.

Oxford, on the other hand, uses Michaelmas, Hillary and Trinity.

What are Hilary and Trinity that Oxford and the courts have named their terms for?

It appears that the festival of St Hilary occurs on January 13th. As Oxford’s second Term generally starts around that time, it seems sensible that they should call the Term, Hilary.

Trinity Sunday is the Sunday after Whitsunday, which is the seventh Sunday after Easter. So, considering Oxford’s Term dates, Trinity Term is the Term which contains Trinity Sunday.

Hilary is named after St. Hilary of Poitiers whose feast day (13 January in England) was the earliest day on which the law courts could resume for business after Christmas etc.

Trinity is named after Trinity Sunday which falls eight weeks after Easter.

I’m fairly sure off the top of my head that Oxford took the names from the law terms rather than the other way round.

Ginchy. Thanks.

So what is Septuagesima, or rather, why does that sunday (the third before Lent) happen to have a name?

Lookie here.


Thanks, Moriah. I’d already looked at that (how I remembered that it was the third Sunday before Lent), but it doen’t have anything definite. Since that encyclopedia is about 90 years out of date, I was hoping someone had developed more of a theory.