|An early Roman Calendar|
Except the fact that the church year is of early origin, an evolution to be sure but still present in rudimentary form from the earliest days of Christianity. So what was Paul referring to when he complained about the Galatians who were “observing days and months and seasons and years.” Surely there was a context. When the Galatians were pagans did they not live according to the Roman calendar? Indeed, the Roman calendar was filled with pagan commemorations and holidays -- to the point that about only 240 days were officially clear for government business!
Was it that in rejecting their pagan calendar, they had looked around for one to replace it and had been content to substitute the Jewish holy days in place of the Roman calendar? Indeed this section does come with the introduction of Paul that to return to slavery is antithetical to the Gospel that had been preached to them. It could very well be that that they were substituting the Jewish calendar of holy days but with this calendar had come also a life defined by the ceremonial law. Certainly, Paul is treating this as a present itch toward a legalistic framework (you are observing... you are turning away). It might seem that Paul's reference to the calendar here is shorthand for the whole idea that the sacrificial life and death of Jesus must be supplemented in some way by their own faithful observance of the ceremonial law (even circumcision). Paul fears for them that they are sliding back under the law and rendering his whole service of the Gospel to them "to no avail."
The Roman calendar was filled with superstition, with days of festivals and games as well as unlucky days in which certain activities were best avoided. The underworld was opened at certain points and ghosts were let loose on others and the days when historical disaster struck or military defeats were remembered posed ominously over decisions and activities -- even entertainment. At these times public festivities were banned and it was best simply to hide away until the time passed. Certain days were so important that everyone got a day off of work -- Saturnalia in December and later Compitalia.
Paul treated this subject with the Romans as well (14:5) and seemed to dismiss any and all calendars. Yet there is a big difference between the Roman calendar and its pagan commemorations and superstitions and even the Jewish calendar with its legal requirements of observance for righteousness' sake AND the Church Year with its focus on the events in the life of the Lord (the Festival Half) and the teaching of the Lord (the non-festival half). Clearly those who wish to dismiss any and all remembrances of days, events, and seasons are stretching in their comparison of the Church Year and either the Jewish calendar and the Roman (or other pagan) calendar. One brings with it duties and obligations and the other delivers the joyful remembrance of the promise of God fulfilled in Christ and its unfolding to the supreme revelation of His glory on the cross and in the empty tomb. Paul is surely correct in distinguishing those events which require us to add to what God has done by our observance and those that recall with joy what God has done -- the kind of teaching remembrance which not only recalls but confesses these saving actions of God. Yet, I remain unconvinced that Paul's words could in any way be directed against the Church Year -- even one with traditions of observance associated with it (such as fasting and almsgiving, for example).