Neither did I, until this afternoon, but I was fascinated to find out.
Oak Apple Day (29 May) commemorates the restoration of King Charles II in 1660. Of course, it isn't celebrated so much anymore, but it actually used to be a public holiday in England until 1859. A few ceremonies are still held here and there.
The symbolism of the oak apple (which isn't an apple at all, but a "type of plant gall", whatever that is, from the oak tree) refers to the tree the future King hid in while fleeing from the Roundheads after the Battle of Worcester in 1651. (Another thing I learned today was just how romantic and dashing his escape from England really was-- six weeks of narrow escapes, disguise and safe houses. Why has nobody made a movie of it yet?)
If you didn't wear oak leaves or oak apples on that day, you were liable to be pelted with eggs-- and good enough for you, say I.
Why am I even mentioning this? Not only because I am an ardent monarchist, but also because, to me, the fading and disappearance of these traditions is almost unbearably sad. It seems to me a crying shame that Guy Fawkes night (though it might be considered a form of Catholic-bashing, if you want to be politically correct about it) appears to be dying out in England. I remember, when I was a boy, British comics used to print (on double-page spreads) Guy Fawkes masks to cut out and paste onto stiff cardboard, especially for the fifth of November. A mask of the unhappy plotter has become iconic in our own time, of course (amongst the Occupy Wall Street brigade), but it's not quite the same thing.
We in Ireland have our own political commemoration we would do well to revive-- Ivy Day (October 6) a day for honouring Charles Stewart Parnell. I know the name came from the sprigs of ivy that mourners at his mammoth funeral took upon leaving the cemetery, and placed it in their buttonholes. I know that James Joyce wrote a short story called Ivy Day in the Committee Room (I even have a vague memory of reading it). But I don't know much more about it. Still, I would be all in favour of a revival.
What on earth is all this doing in this blog? Well, I have no intention of confining my musings here to the purely religious. I do think Catholics should be, well, catholic.
If I seemed to harsh in my recent review of Beyond Consolation by John Waters, let me say I agree with the spirit of this passage:
Why does religion, which should really embrace the entirety of human possibility, seem content to wallow about in a mess of petty issues relating to perceived ethical dimensions of reality? Why, for example, do we not expect to find in our religious publications articles about (to outline a short list for the sake of example) poetry, motor cars, Mozart, football, beauty, ice-skating, mathematics, Plato, black holes, the molecular structure of water?...Is it not odd that, if religion is supposed to encompass everything, it is so easy to predict what will preoccupy religious-minded people?
I think he is a bit harsh on some religious publications here (the Sacred Heart Messenger, for instance, and to some degree the Irish Catholic) but there is a fundamental fairness to the observation. I am going to try to take it to heart!