Blow a horn! Shout for joy! Celebrate seven times seven times! Break the chains! Let the land and the people rest! Forgive all! Light a flame!
Where shall we light a flame? Hmm… how about on some cherries?
Chef Auguste Escoffier created the dessert we call cherries Jubilee (cherries flambéd with kirsch and served on ice cream) for the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897. Why was it a jubilee? A jubilee, in this sense, is a special celebration to mark a landmark anniversary (as, for instance, of the beginning of a reign): silver for 25th, gold for 50th, diamond for 60th. That is transferred from ecclesiastical special years: in the Roman Catholic Church, every 25 or 50 years there is a special year of universal pardon and remission of sins – pilgrimages are involved, to Rome of course – and other special jubilees may be declared in other years as well.
The Catholics in turn got the idea from the book of Leviticus in the Bible. The people of Israel were prescribed to have a sabbath year every seven years: the land was to lie fallow, to regenerate. After seven cycles of sabbath years, there was to be a jubilee year, when not only would the land lie fallow but slaves would be freed and property that had been sold would revert to the seller. It was to be a year of rest and restoration. And it would be announced by a blow on a ram’s horn during Yom Kippur.
A ram’s horn? A ram was, in the Hebrew of the time, yobhel; the announcing of the jubilee with a ram’s horn was, apparently, what gave it its name. But when that came via Greek to Latin, the word that should have been jobelæus appeared as jubilæus, almost certainly because of the pre-existing Latin verb jubilare ‘shout’ and its noun jubilum. So a year of liberation and rest became readily associated with shouting for joy. Everybody celebrate and have a good time! Jubilate! (Which comes from jubilare, not jubilæus.)
And, of course, observe the turn of an important year. In Alberta, two large auditoriums were built – one in Calgary, one in Edmonton – to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the province, in 1955. They are called the Jubilee Auditorium (specifically the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium and the Northern same same same). I think that was where I first saw the word jubilee. But it shows up in all sorts of places. I especially like it when it shows up with cherries.
For me, though, its significance right now is that I have completed seven times seven years of my life, and today I have embarked on my fiftieth year (at the conclusion of which, in one year, I will be 50 years old). So, naturally, I took an extra day off from work to make a nice, restful long weekend of it. Now let’s see what I make of the rest of the year…