The New International Encyclopædia/Festivals

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FESTIVALS (OF., Fr. festival, from ML. festivalis, from Lat. festivus, festive, from festum, feast), or Feasts. Days or seasons set apart for public rejoicing and rest from ordinary labor, at stated intervals, or occasionally for religious purposes solely, or for the celebration of some person or event. Originally, all festivals were of a religious character, since eating, drinking, and other pleasures connected with them could not be indulged without sharing these enjoyments with the divinities. The earliest of all festivals seem to have been connected with the cult of the dead. At great banquets communion was held with the departed spirits and offerings were made to them. As clans grew and became scattered, such common meals could only be arranged occasionally. When the great luminaries began to attract worship and the ancestral spirits were in some way connected with them, these banquets were held annually or monthly. While purely animistic festivals are still observed in different parts of the world, when food and drink are offered to the dead at their burial-places, in the vast majority of instances the primitive significance has been obscured or wholly obliterated by a superinduced reference to natural phenomena or historic events. Wandering tribes are greatly attracted by the changing phases of the moon, and the festivals characteristic of the nomadic state are chiefly lunar. When men settle down to agricultural life, they become dependent on sunshine and rain; winter and summer, seed-time and harvest, equinoxes and solstices become the occasions for festivities. With the development of a more complex social organization and the rise of great empires, the interest in national self-preservation becomes acute, and the feasts assume a political character as celebrations of deliverance and victory. Veneration of the great religious leaders who have deeply impressed a people's life leads to the setting apart of certain days in their honor. But whatever new significance is added to an earlier festival, something of its old character is likely to adhere to it. The god who sleeps during the winter and is awakened from his slumber at the vernal equinox has much in common with the ancestral spirit to whom new vitality is given by a libation of blood, and it is natural that the celebration of those mighty beings whose changing fortunes and all too human experiences were seen portrayed in the ceaseless play of nature's forces, should borrow a feature from the banquets in honor of the departed dead. Fellowship with and likeness to the spirits associated with the elements of nature are sought in more exacting cultic performances. In solemn mimicry and self-inflicted pains the acts and sufferings of the deity are imitated. Sympathy with the solar divinity as well as with his mother and his spouse in the loss of generative power and the recovery of reproductive strength is expressed by the worshiper in self-imposed impotence and sterility, or unrestrained sexual abandonment. Songs, shouts, dances and processions, simple scenic representations, and ultimately the drama are the results of such symbolic actions. When historic personalities and events begin to be celebrated, the character of the gods is apt to be transferred to the heroes, and the divine experiences blend with the human. This is especially the ease with the great religious leaders, whose apotheosis is most natural.

The festivals celebrated by the ancient Toltecs and Aztecs of Mexico, and the Incas of Peru, while retaining features of ancestor-worship, were for the most part of a solar and lunar character. The Mexicans had their chief feasts in May, June, and December. The Peruvians, besides the new moons, also celebrated the summer and winter solstices and the equinoxes. The Chinese have a very elaborate system of festivals. Of these the most important is the one celebrated in honor of the dead at the winter solstice. Even the Buddhists of China have their feasts commemorating the birth of Gautama Buddha, his departure from home, and his entrance into Nirvana. The Karens have an annual feast in honor of the departed, while the Nagas of Assam make their offerings to the dead each moon. In Siam the 8th and 15th of every month are considered sacred. From the Yajur Veda period to the present day numerous feasts have been observed in India. The Holi at the vernal equinox and the Dasahara in the autumn are mentioned as early as Aitareya Brahmana. In honor of Vishnu, Siva, and Indra, the Ganges, and the goddess Kali, festivals are still held. The ancient Persians had four solar feasts, at the solstices and the equinoxes, an annual funeral feast in February, a celebration of the five intercalary days, and several festivals to which a historic significance was given, as celebrations of victories like that of Iran over Turan, and of Feridun over Zohak. The Fravardigan, or New Year's Feast, had distinctly animistic features. With the Mithra cult its great feast on the 25th of December passed to Asia Minor and the West. The Asianic peoples seem to have had their festivals at the equinoxes. Thus the Phrygians celebrated the sleep and the awakening of the sun-god in the fall and the spring. The intense worship of the mother-goddess in Asia Minor no doubt influenced profoundly the festivals of the Ionian Greeks.

In Greece each demos had its peculiar calendar. But the ἑορτή, or new-moon feast (Odyssey, xx. 156) was probably kept very generally in earlier times. A harvest festival, and an ancestral feast in honor of Erechtheus also go back to a high antiquity (Iliad. ix. 533; ii. 550). The Athenian calendar which is best known contains one or more festivals each month. In January the Lenæa, or wine-press feast in honor of Dionysus was celebrated (see Bacchus); in February the Anthesteria of Dionysus, the Diasia of Zeus, and the lesser Eleusinia (see Eleusinian Mysteries); in March the Pandia of Zeus, the Elaphebolia of Artemis, and the greater Dionysia; in April the Munychia of Artemis, and the Delphinia of Apollo; in May, the Thargelia of Apollo, and the Plynteria and Oallynteria of Athene; in June, the Diipolia of Zeus, and the Scirophoria of Athene; in July, the Cronia of Cronus, and the Panathenæa (q.v.) of Athene; in August, the Metageitnia of Apollo; in September, the Boëdromia of Apollo, the Nemeseia, and the greater Eleusinia; in October, the Pyanepsia of Apollo, the Oschophoria of Dionysus, the Athenæa of Athene, the Thesmophoria of Demeter, and the Apaturia; in November, the Maimakteria of Zeus; and in December, the lesser Dionysia. The Nemeseia was an ancestor feast; historic associations clustered about other festivals, while still others were nature-feasts. Great significance was acquired by the national feasts, of which the games and dramatic performances became the leading attractions. See Isthmus; Nemea; Olympia; Olympiad; Olympic Games; Pythian Games.

As in Greece, so in Italy, the festivals were in earlier times comparatively few in number. Among them were distinctly animistic feasts such as the Lemuralia and the Feralia. The Roman receptivity to foreign religious customs subsequently led to a great increase, and a constant fluctuation in their number. At the beginning of the Christian Era the most important were the following: In January, New Year's Day, the Agonalia and the Carmentalia; in February, the Faunalia, the Lupercalia, the Quirinalia, the Feralia, the Terminalia, the Fugalia, and the Equiria; in March, the Matronalia, the Liberalia, and the Quinquatria; in April, the Megalesia, the Cercalia, the Palilia, the Vinalia, the Robigalia, and the Floralia; in May, the Lemuria, and the Ludi Martiales; in June, the feast of Semo Sancus, the Vestalia, and the Matralia; in July the Apollinaria and Neptunalia; in August, the Nemoralia, the Consualia, the Vinalia Rustica, and the Vulcanalia; in September, the Ludi Magni in honor of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva; in October, the Meditrinalia, the Faunalia, and the Equiria; in November, the Epulum Jovis; and in December, the last Faunalia, the Opalia, the Saturnalia, and the Larentalia. Under the emperors the number of festivals increased to such an extent that at one time there were more feast days than days of work. The Germanic nations had important festivals at the winter solstice and the vernal equinox, the Yule-tide devoted to Frey, the Easter to the goddes Ostara, and there are also traces of neomenia. Evidence of original ancestor-worship is found in connection with some Celtic and Slavonic feasts.

In ancient Egypt each nome had originally its own cycle of feasts, and the character of the festivities was determined by the nature of the divinity worshiped at its chief sanctuary. Lunar feasts in honor of the dead were apparently celebrated everywhere, and even the solar feasts were likely to be of an animistic character. Since the fertility of the soil depended wholly upon the inundations of the Nile, it is natural that its rising should be celebrated throughout the valley. Where worship of the solar deities forms so large a part of the religious life as in Egypt, and in the epic of the myths all other gods and departed spirits are brought into relation with them, it is natural that the life-producing energy of the sun should be bodied forth in symbolic acts. Sexual excesses were therefore apt to characterize especially the celebration of the great goddesses, Neith, Nut, Hathor, and Isis. In later times, however, a pantheistic philosophy and a mystic mood seem to have given the Isis festivals a more spiritual character.

In Babylonia each great sanctuary also developed its own calendar. Extant inscriptions do not give a full account of any system; but it is evident that some of the greatest festivals, such as the Zakmuk, or New Year's feast at the vernal equinox, and the Sacæa possibly at the summer solstice, were kept throughout the land. At the former, the destinies of men were fixed for the coming year. It seems to have been a Marduk festival. A procession between the neighboring shrines of Babylon and Borsippa took place at this time, and the King “seized the hands of Bel,” by which ceremony he was formally installed as vicegerent of the god during the year. According to Berosus and Strabo the Sacæa had a Dionysiac character, and among the enjoyments it furnished was the crowning of a condemned criminal as mock king. For five days he had full license, and then was disrobed, scourged, and impaled. The five days are probably the humustu or intercalary days. At certain Ishtar feasts women sacrificed their virginity or offered themselves for the benefit of the goddess, according to Greek writers. A special significance seems to have been attached to the 7th, 14th, 19th, 21st, and 28th days of the month, according to an ancient calendar, and the term shabattum is explained in a lexical tablet as “day of the rest of the heart.” It is therefore possible that the Sabbath is of Babylonian origin as a day when the heart of the gods was pacified by sacrifice. Whether it was observed by the ancient Canaanites and Phœnicians cannot be determined. (See Sabbath.) The clearest testimony concerning their festivals is found in the Hebrew records, since it was from these Semitic peoples that the invaders borrowed the agricultural festivals. The license that prevailed at the Ashtaroth and Adonis festivals is vouched for by many witnesses.

While South Arabian inscriptions are beginning to clear up the history of the peninsula before Mohammed (see Minæans; Sabæans), we are still dependent upon Islamic writers for our knowledge of the festivals that were kept in that period. In spite of their misapprehensions, it is possible to discern the fact that the great festivals of the Muslim calendar are adaptations of pagan feasts, and even the manner of celebration is certainly a continuation of the old traditions. The great feast of ancient Arabia was in the spring, in the month called Rajab, during which, on account of this festival, cessation of hostilities between the tribes was ordained. This sacred season was originally fixed at the beginning of the summer, but the ignorance of astronomy in the earliest time, and the insistence upon a lunar year, caused the months to recede from year to year. At this time the firstlings were offered. Muharram was the first winter month, and its beginning marked the New Year with a festival at the autumnal equinox. The first ten days of the month are considered sacred by the Shiites and observed in commemoration of the martyrdom of Hosein. (See Mohammedan Sects; Hasan and Hosein.) The tenth of the month is generally observed throughout the Muslim world. The birthday of the Prophet in the third month is kept, and the 27th of the seventh month in commemoration of his supposed miraculous ascent to heaven. The first three days of Shawual, the tenth month, constitute the ‘minor festival.’ It follows immediately upon the end of the fast of Ramadan (the ninth month), and is a time of general rejoicing after the rigors of this season. (See Ramadan.) On the tenth of Dhu'l Hijjah (the day of the sacrifice at Mecca; see Hajj) begins the ‘great festival,’ lasting three or four days. The departure and return of the pilgrimage are also occasions of ceremony and rejoicing. Many other days have a local observance in honor of some great man or event. The method of keeping a Mohammedan holiday varies greatly. Public processions are often a prominent feature. Friday (el-Jumah) is frequently called the Mohammedan Sunday. It is the great day for public gathering at the mosque, but has no other point of resemblance to the Christian holy day.

Before their invasion of Palestine, the Hebrew tribes seem to have had one important annual festival, the Passover (q.v.). This Pesach, or leap-feast, so called probably from the gamboling of the young, was celebrated about the time of the vernal equinox, apparently by each household offering the firstlings of its flocks and herds. The recipients of these sacrifices may have been the household gods (Elohim), as even after the settlement in Palestine, when the people lived in houses and no longer in tents, they seem to have smeared the blood upon the threshold and the door-posts, where these guardian spirits were conceived to have their abode. It is probable that the festival of the new moon was also celebrated in this period; and the Feast of Sheep-Shearing may be of equal antiquity (I. Sam. xxv., 2; II. Sam. xiii. 23). When the different tribes had settled down to agriculture, they naturally learned of their new neighbors how to celebrate properly the harvest feasts, until then unknown to them. The great agricultural feasts were three in number. At the Feast of Unleavened Bread (called Hag ham-mazzoth, from hag, a dance, a pilgrimage, a festival, and mazzoth, cakes) the first-fruits of the barley harvest were presented to the local Baal or to Jehovah. Seven weeks later the Feast of Weeks was observed (Hag shabu‘oth or Hag haq-qasir; shabu‘oth, weeks; qasir, harvest) when the wheat crop had been gathered in. The time between these two feasts was a single festive season. In the autumn the Feast of Tabernacles came (Hag has-sukkoth or Hag asiph: sukkoth, booths, tents; asiph, gathering, harvest), “the ingathering at the year's end.” This was on the occasion of the vintage and the olive-gathering. Its name was derived from the custom of living in groves and gardens in huts made of boughs. These booths were the scene of much merriment. Sacred dances were an important feature. At Shiloh the young maidens performed choral dances in the vineyards (Judges xxi., 19 sqq.). Eli's suspicion of Hannah shows how freely the wine was used even by women on these occasions (I. Sam. i. 14). The denunciations of the pre-exilic prophets reveal the essentially Dionysiac and licentious character of these festivals at the great shrines. To such an extent were drunken orgies and sexual indulgences characteristic features of these feasts, that men like Amos and Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah declared the sacrificial system and the temple cult contrary to the will of Jehovah. Concerning some early festivals our information is very scanty. Thus the Jephthah festival in Gilead, at which a virgin apparently was sacrificed, may have been either in honor of a virgin goddess, or more probably of the divinity who opens the womb, in order to insure the fertility of the tribe (Judges xi. 40). The centralization of the cult in Jerusalem and the attempted abolition of all sanctuaries outside of the capital in the reign of Josiah (B.C. 637-608) had a tendency at once to enchance the importance of the great festivals and to check the moral abuses associated with the rural feasts. But the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the independent statehood of Judah naturally caused a revival of the local cults. That even some of the features most vehemently denounced by the prophets still continued in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. is evident from Isaiah lvi.-lxvi. Having no temples, the exiles naturally put the more emphasis upon the keeping of the Sabbath, which was possible even in a foreign land; and it is significant that the insistence upon reform in the observance of the Sabbath was first made in Jerusalem by men born in Persia, such as Nehemiah and Ezra. All festivals are in this period given a historic significance. The ecclesiastical legislation did not recognize them as nature feasts, but as celebrations of Israel's deliverance from Egypt. New feasts appeared in the Rosh hash-shanah, or New Year's Day, and the Yom Kippur, or the day of Atonement, on the 1st and 10th of the seventh month respectively. In the Maccabæan period, the Dedication Feast was introduced to celebrate the reconsecration of the temple of Jehovah, on the 25th of Chislev, B.C. 165, after it had been for three years a Jupiter sanctuary (I. Macc. iv. 59). It is not likely to be an accident, however, that this event was celebrated at the time of the winter solstice. The recovery of the temple about that time of the year rendered it possible to dedicate to Jehovah a festival widely celebrated by pagan neighbors and probably also by emancipated Jews. Similarly the feast of Nicanor on the 13th of Adar, in celebration of the victory of Judas Maccabæus at Beth-horon in B.C. 161, was apparently an adaptation of an earlier festival in honor of the dead (I. Macc. vii. 49; II. Macc. xv. 36). Subsequently the Purim feast absorbed this Nicanor festival. The former seems to have been originally an Ishtar feast, celebrating the victory of this goddess and Marduk over the Elamitish divinity, Humba, conceived as a demon representing the nether world. In the Hebrew story told to commend the festival the names of the combatants in the Babylonian myth have been thinly disguised as Esther, Mordecai, and Haman, while in the actual celebration the ornamenting of the graves is most unimpeachable testimony to the worship of the dead once connected with it. As the Greek translation, according to the colophon, appears to have been made and brought to Egypt to introduce the Purim feast for the first time among the Jews living there in the year B.C. 45, the book of Esther and the institution of the festival among orthodox Jews in Palestine cannot have been much older. Whether the feast of the capture of the Akra (I. Macc. xiii. 50-52), no longer celebrated in the time of Josephus, likewise grew out of a nature festival cannot be determined. Equally unknown is the origin of the Feast of Wood-bringing (Josephus, Bel. Jud. ii. 17, 6) and of the Feast of the Rejoicing of the Law.

The attitude of Jesus to the feasts of His people seems to have resembled that of the earlier prophets. Concerning one of them only, the Sabbath, has His opinion been recorded. But His defense of His disciples when charged with breaking the Sabbath clearly reveals His position. “Man was not made for the sake of the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for the sake of man; therefore man has also authority over the Sabbath,” is an assertion utterly at variance with the prevailing estimate of the day. Whether His last meal with His disciples was the paschal meal cannot be determined with certainty. These disciples no doubt continued to keep the Jewish festivals. Only as Christianity began to make converts outside of Judaism did the question of their observance become an important one. In the Epistle to the Galatians, Sabbaths, new moons, and other sacred days are regarded as shadows of the coming reality, and done away with in Christ, and the insistence upon Sabbath-keeping is looked upon as a sign of apostasy from the liberty of the Gospel. In the profound philosophy of the Fourth Gospel the festivals of the Jews find a symbolic interpretation. In Jewish Christian circles, however, the Sabbath continued to be observed, as the Apostolical Constitutions and the canons of the Council of Laodicea show. A second-century gospel fragment in Coptic indicates that even the Jewish Passover was kept by Christians in Egypt. But gradually a number of Christian festivals came into vogue. It is not known how early the first day of the week began to be celebrated in honor of the resurrection. There is no trace of such an observance in the New Testament. For neither I. Cor. xvi. 2, where each person is bidden to lay by him, i.e. in his own house, as he is prospered, on the first day of the week; nor Acts xx. 7, where there is a breaking of bread on the last day of Paul's stay in Troas, as probably on the preceding ones; nor Rev. i. 10, where the Lord's Day seems to refer to the great judgment day, can be quoted as showing that the first day was distinguished from other days as having a sacred character. What day Pliny refers to in his letter to Trajan is uncertain. The first evidence of religious services upon the first day, because on it “God made the world and Jesus Christ rose from the dead,” is found in Justin Martyr's Apology, written in A.D. 150. Whether the “venerable day of the sun” was first associated with the resurrection through the Mithra cult cannot yet be determined; but Constantine's decree, by which it was made a holiday for the Roman Empire, is couched in language that presupposes its general recognition as a sacred day. (See Sabbath; Sunday.) Through the Quartodeciman struggle a separate Christian festival distinct from the Passover developed in the second century, even though the Easter ritual preserved many features of the Jewish festival. (See Easter.) While Origen still speaks of Pentecost as the whole season of seven weeks following Easter, the celebration of the outpouring of the spirit was in course of time placed at the end of this period. Clement of Alexandria is the first to mention the festival of the Epiphany. That of the Nativity was later. Both Jews and other nations were accustomed to celebrate the winter solstice. Christmas may therefore go back either to the Dedication Feast, to the Roman Saturnalia, or to the great winter festival of the Mithra cult. Subsequently it united with the Germanic Yule. The feast of the Ascension is not older than the fourth century. The great number of pagans entering the Church at that time, and the new character of Christianity as a State religion, caused many combinations of old festivals with the new ones. In the beginning of the sixth century attendance at church was made obligatory at Easter, Christmas, Epiphany, Ascension, Pentecost, Nativity, and Saint John, and later Annunciation, Purification, Assumption of the Virgin, Circumcision, Michael, and All Saints were added. Soon after, the ecclesiastical year was arranged in three cycles: Advent, Easter, and Pentecost. The process of assimilating pagan festivals still continued. According to the direction of Gregory the Great, feasts as well as temples were to be appropriated. Thus the Yule of the Germanic peoples and the Holiada of the Slavs were merged into Christmas, the feast in honor of the goddess Ostara united with the Passover, the Slavonic Kupulo feast blended with the midsummer festival in honor of Saint John the Baptist, and the Celtic carnival and Brandon feasts continued under the Christian régime. The Greek Church multiplied festivals in honor of the saints even faster than the Roman Church. It instituted the special day for the celebration of all the saints of the old law. The Coptic Church adopted seven great festivals: Christmas, Epiphany, Annunciation, Palm Sunday, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost. Toward the end of the Middle Ages earnest protests were made by leaders in the Church as well as by dissenters against the increase of festal days, both for economic and religious reasons. The partial or complete cessation of work took a disproportionate amount of time from every form of labor, and in spite of religious observances and prohibition of certain amusements, the leisure and gayety of these days naturally had a tendency to lead to excesses of different kinds.

The modern tendency in the Roman Catholic Church has accordingly been to reduce the number of holidays of obligation, i.e. those on which servile work is prohibited; not counting Sundays, there are only six in the year in the United States. On the other hand, there has been a great increase in the total number of festivals, with the development of certain devotions and the gradual enlargement of the calendar. They are divided ritually into doubles, semi-doubles, and simples, the first being those in which the antiphons at lauds and vespers are doubled, and including doubles of the first and second class, greater and lesser doubles. Doubles of the first class are frequently accompanied by octaves, i.e. the seven days after the feast are kept with corresponding ritual observances.

The only feast day retained by all the Churches of the Reformation was Sunday (q.v.). The Church of England made fewer changes in the calendar than any other, retaining in addition to Easter, Christmas, Ascension, and Whitsunday, Trinity Sunday, the Circumcision, the Epiphany, the Purification and Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin, the Nativity of Saint John Baptist, All Saints, Saint Michael, and All Angels, feasts of all the Apostles and Evangelists. Lutheran churches retained the feasts of the New Year, Epiphany, Annunciation, Palm Sunday, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Saint John the Baptist, and Christmas. At Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas two days are kept. Presbyterians and other reformed bodies recognized no holy day, except Sunday, which is regarded as the Christian Sabbath. The Westminster Assembly of 1645 declared that there is no warrant in the Word of God for any other festival.

At the time of the French Revolution an attempt was made to reform the calendar by substituting a ten day week for that of seven days, and the celebration of other events, personalities, and virtues for those emphasized by the Church. But it had no permanent success. The separation of Church and state in the United States, and the principle of religious liberty widely recognized in Europe, during the last century have raised many new questions concerning the sacred days. Where civil society can no longer take cognizance of the conceived sanctity of any day, but only guarantee that no citizen shall be disturbed at any time in his religious exercises, new grounds must be found for legislation affecting holidays. While absolute cessation from labor cannot be enjoined without infringing upon the liberties of the individual, the duty of society to protect its weaker members has been invoked to justify legislative measures securing to all the privilege of periodic rest. In some countries the public libraries, museums, art galleries, and theatres are open on holidays; in others, the labor necessarily involved is urged as the reason for prohibiting all educational and artistic exhibits. It is held by many sociologists that, as only a regularly recurring period of rest and recreation seems to be required, all legitimate needs may be met, without interruption of the world's work, its educational opportunities, and its artistic enjoyments, by an alternation of working forces.

Bibliography. Spencer, Principles of Sociology (3d ed., London, 1885); Frazer, The Golden Bough (New York, 1890); Doolittle, Social Life of the Chinese (New York, 1866); Schömann, Griechische Alterthümer (Berlin, 1897); Rohde, Psyche (Freiburg, 1898); Mommsen, Heortologie (Leipzig, 1864); Maspero, Histoire ancienne des peuples de l'orient classique (Paris, 1895-99); Jastrow, Religion of the Ancient Babylonians (Boston, 1898); Snouck-Hurgronje, Het mekkaansche Feest (Leyden, 1890); Wellhausen, Reste arabischen Heidenthums (Berlin, 1897), and Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels (Berlin, 1895); George, Die älteren jüdischen Feste (Berlin, 1835); Benzinger, Hebraische Archäologie (Freiburg, 1894); Nowack, Hebräische Archäologie (Freiburg, 1894); Robertson Smith, The Old Testament in the Jewish Church (New York, 1881); Green, The Hebrew Feasts (New York, 1885). See Calendar; Fast.