Chaplaincy

Tulip Day: A story about flowers and … courage, strength and resistance

This week's blog post has been written by Associate Chaplain, Urzula Glienecke.

Photograph of tulips beginning to open. There are purple, pink and orange flowers beginning to open.

Allow me to tell you about one of my childhood’s favourite days. We had lovingly nicknamed it “The Tulip Day”. It took place very early in the spring, on the 8th of March, when it’s almost still winter in Latvia and the days just begin to warm up a little. The old name of the month of March used to be Sērsnu Mēnesis, the Month of the Snow-crusts. The sunlight would slowly become stronger and its warmth would melt the surface of the snow at daytime, but it would still freeze during the night and build a harder crust on top, at times strong enough for a child like me to run over it.

Tulips were the only flowers available at that time of the year– and almost not affordable for an average human being (there were the red roses and red carnations, of course, but those were for the women of the military elite). So, on the morning of the 8th of March my Grandfather – the only living male member of my family – would go out in the glittering snow and frost and bring back 3 tulips (he couldn’t afford more). The flowers were grown in glass boxes warmed by the flames of candles and guarded day and by night by diligent growers until they opened their blossoms.

One tulip for his wife, my Grandmother, one for his daughter and one for “the little woman” – me.

Why the flowers? Because it was The International Women’s Day (IWD)! It was widely celebrated in the Soviet Union, a country which was not known for gender equality or justice. Many used the day as “the one day in the year to be nice to girls for one day” as if that would be enough to compensate for domestic violence and gender inequality.

Yes, there’s more to the IWD than flowers, much more! The IWD has its origins in early 20th century: in the universal female suffrage movement in Europe, North America and New Zeeland. From those roots nowadays it has become a day to celebrate cultural, scientific, political and socioeconomic achievements of women world-wide. It is also a reminder – and hopefully not only for a day! – to think of gender equality where it’s lacking, of violence and abuse against women as well as reproductive rights. It is about questions of justice: social, economic, political, environmental and more. The 2022 UN theme for International Women's Day is "Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow."[1]

Today I also have to think of the song “If the war goes on” by John L Bell and Graham Maule and the war in Ukraine…

If the war goes on and the children die of hunger, and the old men weep for the young men are no more, and the women learn how to dance without a partner who will keep the score?

(From “I will not sing alone”, WGRG, Iona Community).

Drawing of a lily breaking through and growing through hard ground.

In times like these women will not only learn to “dance without a partner”. They will carry the load along the men, including carrying weapons in combat, sad as that might be no matter what the gender. They will rebuild the country from the ruin and rubble and revive the land as the women in Berlin and all across Europe did after the WWII. They will do their share and more than it.

The International Women’s Day is still marked and celebrated today, not only because we want to acknowledge and celebrate women’s contribution to our world, societies, politics, science, art. We certainly do that, but it is also marked, because it’s still a long way to equality, equal rights and opportunities for women in many places around the globe and closer to home.

Even in both of my home churches there’s a lot of work still to be done until equality is reached. The Church of Scotland has only about 25% women ministers and only 4 of the 14 General Assembly Trustees are female. The Latvian Lutheran Church has excluded women from ordained ministry altogether - after having had women ministers for more than 20 years!

But there’s hope! The symbol of the Latvian Women Theologian’s Association is a lily breaking through tough ground. It is a symbol of courage, strength, resistance. It is also a symbol of hope showing that despite adversity we can still find our strength, thrive and flourish.

Photograph of inside a church of World Day of Prayer. A student is standing at the front of a church reading to those in attendance

It was also symbolic that the World Day of Prayer material this year was prepared by women of England, Wales and Northern Ireland and at the service I attended here in Edinburgh at the St Andrew’s and St George’s West CoS was led - among others - by a young female Asian student of theology. I really liked how behind her in the photo a picture of an old, bearded, white man can be seen. Time for change has come!

”Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world that's diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women's equality”.

You can find out more about the IWD here: https://www.internationalwomensday.com/