This weekend, many of us celebrated a beloved national holiday. Perhaps you enjoyed a porterhouse steak off the grill, or played touch football with the kids; perhaps the local marching band led your town in a rousing patriotic medley. But amidst the fanfare and the bunting, did you take a moment to reflect on what this holiday was really about? Did you really pause to remember that May 24 was Cyrillic and Glagolitic Alphabet Day?
On Saturday, readers throughout the Slavic world celebrated Saints Cyril and Methodius Day, a bonafide public holiday in Russia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. The holiday honors Cyril and Methodius, the Byzantine brothers whose missions to the Slavs, beginning in AD 862, culminated in the invention of the Glagolitic Alphabet, which was used to render Christian texts in the Old Church Slavonic language. Glagolitic’s sister script, Cyrillic, prevailed during the 13th century, and Peter the Great canonized Cyrillic in essentially its modern form in 1708. Cyrillic has survived largely intact, despite the orthographic reforms and political purges of the last century: among the reforms of 1918 were the deprecation of the yer (ъ), and removal of the yat (ѣ) and izhitsa (ѵ), this last letter rumored to have been used for only two words in the entire Russian language at the time of its expulsion (мѵро, сѵнодъ.) But the issues are deep, and with the dissolusion of the USSR, the story is by no means over: Wikipedia devotes an entire section to the burning issue of Yat-reform.
The celebration of the alphabet is by no means limited to the Slavic world: another nation with great typographic traditions celebrates its own Alphabet Day this fall, and I’m working on the blog post already. I promise to give you a little more notice next time — I know how hard it can be to get those Alphabet Day cards out on time. —JH