Most people belong not just to one but to multiple, overlapping, societies. These range in size from families and friendship groups, to vast geopolitical powers and ancient theological systems.
Regardless of the size, each society or community maintains itself in similar ways. They take significant actions and patterns of behaviour and ritualise them, repeating them in a way that refreshes and renews the community.
These ritualised actions are usually chosen specifically to reflect the core beliefs or aims of the community. More often than not they commemorate an event that saw the birth of the community itself, and celebrate the effort and sacrifice that made this birth possible. Everything from birthdays, independence days, ordinations, martyrdoms, and elections; special events are commemorated, celebrated, re-enacted and repeated in ways that define a society.
What counts as a Festival?
The sheer diversity of ways that this happens makes common themes incredibly difficult to highlight. Having said that Festivals can be recognised through their common purpose, regardless of the context, to refresh a society and promote certain values by placing the celebrant in a narrative that helps to give their life meaning. This happens across the globe, and will continue to happen as long as humanity survives and thrives.
Festivals sit at the crossroads of Theology and Politics. Societies don’t just range in size and scope, but also power. Celebrating a festival is tied together with identity. By taking part in an activity that maintains the health of a society you are saying at the least that this society deserves respect, and at most that you identify as a member of this society. Inversely, not taking part could communicate the opposite; that the society in question does not represent you, maybe it does not deserve respect.
Depending on the situation the simple act of taking part or not can require great bravery, especially when there are powerful forces who would restrict or enforce participation.
Festivals are far from relics from earlier ages, they are living traditions that grow, evolve and die just as societies as a whole do. Knowing about them, their significance and history, is integral to understanding the world around us.
What is this Series?
This series aims to do exactly this, help promote understanding through taking the time each week to highlight a festival that is taking place somewhere in the world at that time. It is hoped that by doing so, we will not only be able to gain a better understanding of the festivals, but a better understanding of each other.