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A festival in Somerset, United Kingdom
Village Feast.--Facsimile of a Woodcut of the "Sandrin ou Verd Galant," facetious Work of the End of the Sixteenth Century (edition of 1609)

A festival or gala is an event ordinarily staged by a local community, centring on and celebrating some unique aspect of that community and its traditions.

Festivals serve to meet specific purposes, especially commemoration and/or thanksgiving. They are associated with celebration and also provide entertainment, which was particularly important to local communities before the advent of mass-produced entertainment. These celebrations offer a sense of belonging for religious, social, or geographical groups. Festivals that focus on cultural or ethnic topics also seek to inform members of their traditions and the involvement of community elders sharing stories and experience provides a means for unity among families.

A festival is a special occasion of feasting or celebration, usually with a religious focus. Aside from religion, another significant origin is agricultural. Food (and consequently agriculture) is so vital that many festivals are associated with harvest time. Religious commemoration and thanksgiving for good harvests are blended in events that take place in autumn such as Halloween in the northern hemisphere and Easter in the southern.


The word "festival" was originally used as an adjective from the late fourteenth century, deriving from Latin via Old French.[1] In Middle English, a "festival dai" was a religious holiday.[2] Its first recorded used as a noun was in 1589 (as "Festifall").[1] Feast first came into usage as a noun circa 1200,[3] and its first recorded use as a verb was circa 1300.[4] The term "feast" is also used in common secular parlance as a synonym for any large or elaborate meal. When used as in the meaning of a festival, most often refers to a religious festival rather than a film or art festival. In the Philippines and many other former Spanish colonies, the Spanish word fiesta is used to denote a communal religious feast to honor a patron saint.


Many festivals have religious origins and entwine cultural and religious significance in traditional activities. The most important religious festivals such as Christmas and Hanukkah serve to mark out the year. Others, such as harvest festivals , celebrate seasonal change. Events of historical significance, such as important military victories or other nation-building events also provide the impetus for a festival. Such occasions are often commemorated annually. There are numerous types of festivals in the world and most countries celebrate important events or traditions with traditional cultural events and activities.

In modern times, festivals may be attended by strangers such as tourists, who are attracted to some of the more eccentric or historical ones.[5]

Ancient Egypt[edit]

While many Ancient Egyptian festivals were religious, they also had those that were not.[6] One such festival established by Rameses III celebrated his victory over the Libyans. When feasts occurred, they were either determined by lunar cycles or the Egyptian calendar. Festivals were large celebrations with plenty of food available. In one festival in the 12th century BC, 11,341 loaves of bread and 385 jars of beer were given to the public. The Sed festival celebrated the thirtieth year of a pharaoh's rule and then every three (or four in one case) years after that.[7]

Greece and Rome[edit]

In ancient Greece and Rome, festivals such as Saturnalia, were closely associated with social organisation and political processes as well as religion.[8][9][10]


In Thailand, religious holidays celebrate the life of Buddha, and as in many other countries, royal holidays commemorate dynastic events and agricultural holidays are about harvests.[11]

Types of festivals[edit]

A Festival at Antwerp, 17th century
The opening ceremony at the Woodstock rock festival on August 14, 1969

Religious festivals[edit]

Among many religions, a feast is a set of celebrations in honour of God or gods. A feast and a festival are historically interchangeable. Most religions have festivals that recur annually, such as Easter in Christianity, Diwali in Hinduism, or Eid al-Adha in Islam.

In the Christian liturgical calendar there are two principal feasts, properly known as the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord (Christmas) and the Feast of the Resurrection, (Easter). In the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican liturgical calendars there are a great number of lesser feasts throughout the year commemorating saints, sacred events, doctrines, etc.

Arts festivals[edit]

As well as general arts festivals, there are also more specific types of festivals. These include comedy festivals, music festival such as rock festivals – often held outdoors – and literary festivals.

Film festivals involve the screenings of several different films, and are usually held annually. Some of the most significant film festivals include the Berlin International Film Festival, the Venice Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival.

Food and drink festivals[edit]

A food festival is an event celebrating food or drink. These often highlight the output of producers from a certain region. Some food festivals are focussed on a particular item of food, such as the National Peanut Festival in Dothan, Alabama, or the Galway International Oyster Festival in Ireland. There are also specific beverage festivals, such as the famous Oktoberfest in Munich for beer. Many countries hold festivals to celebrate wine. One example is the global celebration of the arrival of Beaujolais nouveau, which involves shipping the new wine around the world for its release date on the third Thursday of November each year.[12][13] Both Beaujolais nouveau and the Japanese rice wine sake are associated with harvest time.

Seasonal festivals[edit]

Seasonal festivals are determined by the solar and the lunar calendars and by the cycle of the seasons. The changing of the season was celebrated because of its effect on food supply. Ancient Egyptians would enjoy the seasonal inundation caused by the Nile River, a form of irrigation, which provided fertile land for crops.[14] In the Alps, in autumn the return of the cattle from the mountain pastures to the stables in the valley is celebrated as Almabtrieb. A recognized winter festival, the Chinese New Year, is set by the lunar calendar, and celebrated from the day of the second new moon after the winter solstice. An important type of seasonal festivals are those related with the agricultural seasons. Dree Festival of the Apatanis living in Lower Subansiri District of Arunachal Pradesh is one such important festival, which is celebrated every year from July 4 to 7 praying for bumper crop harvest.[15] The Vaisakhi festival marking the new year and birth of the Khalsa is celebrated across the northern Indian subcontinent, especially in the Punjab region by the Sikh community.[16]

Other festivals[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "festival, adj. and n.". OED Online. March 2014. Oxford University Press. Accessed April 16, 2014.
  2. ^ festival (adj.) at the Middle English Dictionary. Accessed April 16, 2014.
  3. ^ "feast, n.". OED Online. March 2014. Oxford University Press. Accessed April 16, 2014.
  4. ^ "feast, v.". OED Online. March 2014. Oxford University Press. Accessed April 16, 2014.
  5. ^ Picard, David; Robinson, Mike (2006). "Remaking Worlds: Festivals, Tourism and Change". In David Picard and Mike Robinson. Festivals, Tourism and Social Change. Channel View Publications. pp. 1–3. ISBN 978-1-84541-267-8. 
  6. ^ Bleeker, C. J. (1967 [1968]). Egyptian festivals. Enactments of religious renewal. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill. 
  7. ^ "Heb-Sed (Egyptian feast)". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 16 April 2014. 
  8. ^ Robertson, Noel (1992). Festivals and legends : the formation of Greek cities in the light of public ritual (Repr. ed.). Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0802059880. 
  9. ^ Brandt, edited by J. Rasmus; Iddeng, Jon W. (2012). Greek and Roman festivals : content, meaning, and practice (1st ed. ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-969609-3. 
  10. ^ Pickard-Cambridge, Sir Arthur (1953). The dramatic festivals of Athens (2nd ed. ed.). Oxford: At the Clarendon Press. ISBN 0198142587. 
  11. ^ Gerson, Ruth (1996). Traditional festivals in Thailand. Kuala Lumpur; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9676531111. 
  12. ^ Hyslop, Leah (21 November 2013). "Beaujolais Nouveau day: 10 facts about the wine". The Telegraph. 
  13. ^ Haine, W. Scott (2006). Culture and Customs of France. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 103. ISBN 978-0-313-32892-3. 
  14. ^ Bunson, Margaret (2009). "Nile festivals". Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. Infobase Publishing. p. 278. ISBN 978-1-4381-0997-8. 
  15. ^ "Press release – Dree festival". Directorate of Information, Govt of Arunachal Pradesh. 5 July 2004. Retrieved 2009-07-13. 
  16. ^ Roy, Christian (2005). "Sikh Vaisakhi: Anniversary of the Pure". Traditional Festivals, Vol. 2 [M - Z]: A Multicultural Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 480. ISBN 978-1-57607-089-5. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Ian Yeoman, ed. (2004). Festival and events management: an international arts and culture perspective (1st ed., repr. ed.). Amsterdam: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann. ISBN 9780750658720. 

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Festivals at Wikimedia Commons
  • The dictionary definition of Festival at Wiktionary