Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Festivals. The religious feasts of savage races are connected with ancestor worship, and among the civilised nations of antiquity there still existed some festivals of this primitive character, but the worship of nature early prevailed both among the Semites and Aryans. The changes of the seasons brought to mind the personified forces supposed to control them, and a regular succession of ceremonial observances became established from year to year. Even where - as among the ancient Greeks - nature-worship degenerated into mere polytheism, the character of the festivals pointed to the origin of the gods in whose honour they were held. The tendency is innate in human nature, for, on the discovery of the New World, the same worship was found to exist among the Peruvians and Mexicans. The latter had a remarkably full calendar, with many movable and immovable feasts. Among the races of the Old World the ancient Persians alone possessed a form of worship entirely void of religious symbolism.

In Homer there are a few scanty allusions to festivals marking the progress of the year; in the Homeric hymns and Hesiod the number is greatly increased, so that a fuller ritual must have grown. up in the intervening period. By the age of Pericles it had reached its full development, and the number of days on which all public business, including the administration of justice, was suspended, amounted to about a sixth part of the entire year. Among the more famous Greek festivals may be mentioned the two Pamathencea, in honour of Athene, the four Bionysia in honour of Bacchus, and the Eleusinian mysteries. Of a different character were the great national meetings at the Olympic, Pythian, Isthmian, and Nemean games, when the religious gathering was made an occasion for literary, artistic, and, above all, athletic contests.

The Roman calendar recognised a division of the year for religious purposes into diesfesti and dies profesti. The former weteferice or public holidays, on which the festivals of the gods were held, public business was suspended, and slaves enjoyed an intermission of their toil. They were of three kinds, according as to whether they were held annually on a fixed day, observed every year at a varying time selected by the priests or magistrates, or enjoined in consequence of some exceptional circumstance. The first class included some of the principal Roman feasts. Among the oldest of these were the Lupercalia, in honour of Lupercus, god of fertility, the Paliiia, in honour of Pales, god of shepherds, and the Saturnalia orfestival of Saturnus,. which eventually extended over seven days in December. Some festivals were called ludi in consequence of the "games," siech as theatrical representations, chariot'-races, and gladiatorial combats, which accompanied them. Of the festivals, the days of which might be changed, the most important was the Ferice Latince, originally an assembly of the whole Latin nation on the Alban Mount, but afterwards converted into a Roman holiday. As the consuls could not take the field before they had held the Latince. the magistrates who had charge of the festival could hasten or retard public business by choosing an early or late date for its celebration. It was part of the Roman policy to adopt the gods of conquered nations, so that the number of festivals greatly "increased during the later years of the Republic. Among late introductions were the Megalesia, the festival of the Phrygian goddess Cybele, who was first worshipped at Rome in 203 B.C., and the Ludi Apollinares, or "games of Apollo," established in 213 B.C.

The festivals of the Hebrews differed widely from those of other ancient races, since they were all directed to the worship of one Supreme Being. They fall into three classes - the Sabbath and the festivals connected with it in idea; the great annual festivals of the Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles; and the Day of Atonement. The first class comprised the Feast of Trumpets on the first day of the seventh month, the Sabbatical (or seventh) Year, when the land was left unfilled and its produce belonged to the poor, and the Year of Jubilee, celebrated at intervals of seven times seven years, when land which had changed hands was restored to the family of its original owner, and all slaves of Hebrew descent were set free. The three great festivals - especially those of Pentecost, Wheat harvest (or First Fruits), and Tabernacles (or Ingathering) were closely connected with agriculture, as is shown by their names and the offerings by which they were accompanied. They also commemorated great historical events, but this was probably a new feature introduced by Moses. The influence of the mystic number 7 in the arrangement of the whole Hebrew calendar is very remarkable. After the return from Babylon two new festivals were added - those of Purim and Dedication.

Among the Christians of the apostolic age there were no sacred clays except the Sabbath, which was henceforward celebrated on the first day of the week. For a long time, however, Saturday as well as Sunday was observed in places where Jewish influence predominated. It was not till the latter part of the 2nd century that the Pascha Staurosimon (corresponding to Good Friday) and the Pascha Anastasimon (Easter), which took the place of the Passover, were recognised throughout the Christian Church. In the same way the Jewish Pentecost soon afterwards became the Christian Whitsunday. During the 4th century Epiphany and Christmas Day were added to the list, and the observance of Ascension Day seems to have become general at about the same time. From this time onwards there was a growing tendency to increase the number of festivals. Days were set apart for the worship of the Blessed Virgin, and others were consecrated to apostles, saints, and martyrs. The change was doubtless due in part to a desire to attract pagans accustomed to the gorgeous ceremonial of heathen temples; but it was highly detrimental to the purity of the Christian religion, while the enforced cessation of work and the character of the festivities carried on in churches (which often pandered to the lowest tastes of the populace) exercised a pernicious influence both on public life and private morality.

At present there is a separate office for each of the numerous festivals of the Roman Catholic Church. The number observed by the Greek Church is even larger, as several patriarchs and prophets find a place in their calendar.

The chief Mohammedan festivals are the 'Eed-el-Kabeer (great festival) and the 'Eed-el-Shagheer (minor festival), which follows the fasts in the month Ramadan. Others commemorate the birth of the prophet, his ascension into heaven, and similar events.