Or rather the right to celebrating rites.
Marking what initially were religious holidays can sometimes be the occasion of celebrations that bear little - if any - connection to the reason for the origin of the holiday.
An early celebration of St Patrick’s day recently in Beacon, NY, turned what had been an afternoon parade of strangely clad celebrants into an evening of police activity.
It was a beautiful, sunny day, the first one after a long period of sustained cold weather. People were ready to party. And party they did.
In true Irish tradition, the beer kept flowing throughout the afternoon, and flowed… a little bit too much. What had started as a day of enjoyment ended up with a confrontation between overly stimulated St Patrickers and a few police officers trying to bring law and order back to what is otherwise usually a peaceful town.
Browsing through a guidebook of England evoked another modern day interpretation of ancient religious rites: the neo-druidic cult that has developed around Stonehenge. Reading up the guide entry reminded me that I had been fortunate enough to visit Stonehenge at a time when one could still walk right to the middle of the stone alignment. I remember imagining what the place would have been like when the druids were worshiping there, and thinking of a more recent Tess of the d’Urbervilles.
The very physicality of ancient sites serves as a reminder that something happened there. The frequent mystery that surrounds the origins of these sites is usually an added incentive for researchers to find an explanation of what that something was. It may also encourage a modern day usage in a way that is thought to replicate the purpose for which the site was initially designed.
A few years following my visit, Stonehenge became enclosed to protect it from overly eager tourists, but maybe more importantly from the crowds of a revived druidic cult followers who, once a year, come to celebrate the summer solstice. According to these neo-druids, they should be granted full access to their place of worship. The English Heritage has obviously judged otherwise.
Whether it is about celebrating a religious in the manner one cares to mark it, or using a site according to the initial purpose for which it was designed, a question for consideration is the extent to which protecting the right to hold the celebration should be of concern at all, or whether such a right should be exercised in the manner the celebrant would chose.