Religion, Ritual, and Holidays
Structuring Life by the Calendar
Holidays are seasonal rituals which can serve to regulate and structure life. Rituals can be important because they are often important means of social communication. We cannot, after all, observe relationships - what we observe is people's behavior towards one another. Very often, that behavior takes place in the context of "ritual" acts - behaviors which may not have obvious functional utility but which do nevertheless reinforce the ways people relate to one another.
What Are Holidays?
Holidays can serve to form a connection to your own past by evoking memories of past celebration. Holidays can form and reinforce connections with the friends and family with whom you celebrate. Holiday events can also create connections across an entire society as people develop parallel experiences which forge subtle bonds.
Index of Major Religious Holidays
Here you will find chronological index of major religious holidays for the year of 2004. Holidays are color-coded based upon which religions are involved, allowing for easier reading.
Equinoxes, Solstices, and Calendars
Many of the most important holidays in all religions and cultures are essentially calendar-based, which means that they are set to the rhythms of regular changes that occur throughout the year (like changes in seasons), and that they exist to mark culturally or religiously significant milestones in the passage of time through the year. Thus you usually can't talk about how and why a holiday is important without also talking about how the culture or religion in question conceptualizes time, the passage of time, and calendars.
Most residents of North America are surely familiar with Groundhog Day, celebrated every year on February 2. What people may not be so familiar with is the fact that there are important religious origins that lie behind that celebration, even if those origins are no longer recognizable. Today, Groundhog Day is treated as a purely secular, if perhaps a bit superstitious, holiday - but that was not always the case.
Although most popular in its secular aspects in America, Valentine's Day is becoming increasingly popular around the world. It was not, however, always a secular holiday for the celebration of love - it has roots going back through ancient Christian celebrations of martyrdom and ancient pagan celebrations of fertility. How have all of these diverse elements come together to form the Valentine's Day we know today?
The pagan roots of Easter can be located in the celebration of the Spring Equinox, a date that has been treated as an important holiday by many different religions and for many millennia. Occurring every year on March 20, 21, or 22, the Spring Equinox marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring. Biologically and well as culturally, this date represents for cultures in northern climates the end of a "dead" season and the rebirth of life, as well as the importance of fertility and reproduction.
In Christianity, the Easter celebration is held to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus, which Christians believe happened three days after he was buried, having been crucified by Roman authorities just outside of Jerusalem. Easter takes place at the same time as Jewish Passover and, as such, is not a fixed date on the calendar but instead moves around.