Have you ever heard of the phrase that Today is a Red Letter Day? It used to be quite common but now is just one of those sayings we vaguely remember from school. It may well be for you and you’d don’t even know it.
The origins of this saying go right back to the Roman Republic which lasted for almost 500 years before it evolved into the Roman Empire over 2,000 years ago. It was their habit to mark important days in their year by marking them in Red on their calendar. It’s something we still do today either to mark national holidays, religious festivals or simply the weekend for those of us at work spending all week waiting for a few days of freedom. In the U.K. some state officials such as Judges or University academics wear special gowns on these days.
What really made the term Red Letter Day come to prominence was in the Medieval period before the printing press was invented. For centuries everything had to be written out painstakingly by hand, frequently by monks or other religious people who were amongst the few who could read and write at this time.
It would take the monks years or even over a decade to write a book, perhaps 20 years to make a copy of The Bible. This was partly due to having to do it all by hand with no mistakes but also due to the love they imbued on their work and on God. They would treat their work as a glorious piece or art.
With all this going on it is no wonder it took them days to write out a paragraph, page or chapter. It must have been monotonous for them and partly for their own satisfaction as well as making it easier for the reader for find the beginning of each piece of text, the monks would write the first letter in red. It was something unusual, a cause for celebration as this sort of thing didn’t happen every day. In fact it became a Red Letter Day.
I don’t know what the modern equivalent of this might be? A special treat for reaching a keystone on a diet? Or for us writers perhaps a cup of tea or our favourite snack after we reach the next 10,000 words or complete a key plot-point or chapter.
Why would this weekend be your Red Letter Day? Mine is because today is the day I start my next writing project. We may no longer mark the beginning of our texts with ornate artwork and red print but as every writer knows, there are a number of special moments in writing a book that must give us something like the feeling that the old monks had when it was time to break out the red ink.