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Pickle Me This

May 28, 2021

Pfingsten

I’ve been reading Barbara Pym all spring, as I’ve mentioned several hundred times, and the Anglican rituals, for me, have always been the most curious aspect of these books—the vicars, and the curates, and the cassocks. What’s a cassock? I don’t even know. And especially: what is Whitsun? Whitsun, which is never a major plot point, but simply part of the course of the year (and occasion for a bank holiday). I had to google it—Whitsun is the Pentecost (and then I had to google that, and I still don’t really get it), celebrated the seventh Sunday after Easter. And frankly, not a lot—Barbara Pym aside—has been going on this spring, as Ontario moves into its eleventeenth month of lockdown, so I decided this was the year I was going to make Whitsun a thing. What that would entail exactly, I wasn’t sure. Definitely not church. But we needed something to look forward to, a goal to shoot for, and so Whitsun it is. (And indeed, this is cultural appropriation. Church of England Cultural Appropriation. It’s not the same thing.)

I decided this during a terrible weekend in mid-April where our provincial government’s incompetence took a swan dive off a cliff. Finally, after the government waiting to see whether modelling numbers predicting ICUs being overwhelmed with patients would play out in reality (SPOILER: they did! Who would have guessed?) the province moved into a locked-downier lockdown from the lockdown we’ve been locked down in since November 23. Six weeks on from then would be Whitsun. Surely by Whitsun, I told myself, we would find ourselves in a better place? Keep looking in the direction of the place you want to get to has been my motto all along…

And here we are, with falling infection rates, with vaccine rates that are really high. We were still in lockdown for Whitsun and the lockdown carries on, but it was so good to mark a milestone on a weekend with such beautiful summer weather. I’d also ordered peonies, because I’d received an enticing ad from a local florist, and the great thing about made-up holidays (all holidays are made-up holidays, even Whitsun, though I’ll acknowledge that my version of Whitsun was particularly improvised) was that you get to make them whatever you want. Whitsun peonies, I decided. And we’d make a Victoria sponge cake. I booked a car so we could go somewhere. We were going to make this the best Whitsun ever!

And it was! It was already a holiday weekend in Ontario and we’d gone for an epic bike ride the day before (Whitsun Eve). On Whitsun itself, we had Sunday waffles as usual but they just tasted better for it being Whitsun. I finished the book I was reading (Day for Night, by Jean McNeil, which I’ll be writing about here soon…). We went to Ontario Place, and had a second weekend in a row with two lake days in a row. We got ice cream. We came home (no traffic) and had an amazing barbecue supper, and then just as I was assembling the Victoria sponge cake (which was beautiful and delicious and did not look like it had been assembled by a blindfolded toddler—a first for me!) a friend sent me a text and asked if our family would like to join theirs for fireworks in the park that evening.

I can’t believe they were lighting fireworks for Whitsun!

Our children have never seen fireworks before and it turned out to be the most magical display, the first real life communal experience we’ve had while not sitting in a vehicle since March 2020 (albeit at safe distance for other people and also explosives). It occurred to me that if everybody just carried around lit sparklers all the time, we’d have no trouble staying six feet apart at all.

Even more cool things: on Sunday I was scrolling through the #Whitsun hashtag on Instagram, and what do I find. Peonies! Whitsun peonies EVERYWHERE. It turns out that the Pentecost is a national holiday in Germany and peonies (pfingstrose, translation Whitsun Rose) are the official symbol. Sometimes when you’re making it up you get it exactly right.

Not all days are glorious. Our bike ride on the Saturday before Whitsun was hot and full of whining. When we finally got to our destination, the beach was full of thick green algae and bugs were swarming us. A very loud church service was being amplified unavoidably, and it was weird and obnoxious. I was allergic to something and broke out in a rash, and on the long ride home we got caught in a rainstorm. “That was awesome,” we said at the end of the journey (20km) but also absolutely awful.

Whitsun though. Whitsun was perfect. Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes you get to make it up and everything goes right.

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