Once upon a time, the aging blogger began, we had regional soda pops. Taking a vacation a day away from your home meant pop machines with an array of bottled liquids bearing names and colors you'd never seen before. A few, like the now omnipresent Mountain Dew, survived and went national. Others now reside as "Who remembers this?" photos on Facebook.
When the subject of Sherlock Holmes's April 5th birthday came up this week, I was put in mind of such regional variations, as I wondered if that date ever gained traction beyond the Southern Illinois/St. Louis area where its evangelists spent the most time.
In the early 1980s, when Father Raymond L. Holly first championed April 5 as the true date of Holmes's birth, William S. Baring-Gould had already heartily embraced January 6 in his cornerstone annotated, and the Baker Street Irregulars had well settled in with their own traditions. But the Southern Illinois scion society, the Occupants of the Empty House, went their own way, following the arguments of Father Holly, and began to celebrate that holiday on April 5.
Those arguments were based upon Holmes's rebirth in "Empty House," Anglican customs, and the detective's very name, "Sherlock," and can be most easily found in the book Commanding Views from the Empty House, in an article titled "The New Beginning." They make much more sense than Christopher Morley's flimsy hangover premise for the January date, but those early Irregulars did like their drinking jokes, as evidenced in the B.S.I. "Buy-laws."
But the reasons why one might think Sherlock Holmes's birthday is this date or that really aren't as important as the celebrations of that date which follow. Members of the Occupants of the Empty House did a very clever thing in picking their own date -- they could have a marvelous celebration at their own meetings and still attend the New York celebration of the other date with never a conflict to be had. Other dates, such as one in June, have also been proposed for similarly functional reasons, June being a better time to do most things than January.
At its core, though, is a premise Sherlockians have always held dear: Look at the original texts about Sherlock Holmes and figure things out for yourself. And then embrace those choices with all your heart. Before we even knew what "headcanon" was, with that concept acknowledging that another head might hold another fact as Canon, we let our hearts hold some things to be true, as Vincent Starrett wrote in his poem "221B."
And sometimes, specific areas of the country held those ideas as one, just like the regional soda pops of my childhood, for a similar reason . . . they were very tasty, and enjoyed by both locals and visitors.