FEASTS AND FESTIVALS.
Terms and Underlying Principles (§ 1).
Provisions of the Priest Code (§ 2).
Comparison of Other Codes (§ 3).
Order of Development of the Codes (§ 4).
Changes in Character of Festivals (§ 5).
Sunday and Sabbath (§ 1).
Annual Feasts (§ 2).
The Protestant Churches (§ 3).
1. Terms and Underlying Principles.
To express the idea of religious festival, the Hebrew has two words, mo`edh and hagh (Ar. hajj). Mo'edh denotes a set time for coming together, and can be employed for any festival (Ezek. xlv. 17) except Sabbaths and new moons (II Chron. viii. 13; cf. Isa. i. 14). Hagh means particularly a festal dance, comes to mean festival in general, and is then applied to the three great feasts at which pilgrimage was made to the great sanctuary, and particularly to the feast of booths (tabernacles) in autumn. No single principle determines the character of feasts in the Old Testament. The feast of new moon and perhaps the Sabbath are lunar, and upon the sabbath reckoning in larger cycles depend the Sabbatical and jubilee years. The feasts of unleavened bread, of weeks and of tabernacles are determined by the season, at least on their agrarian side. The Passover is a historical-religious commemoration, into connection with which the feasts of unleavened bread and of booths are brought, and in post-Biblical times Pentecost was brought into this circle. The same is true of Purim and the feast of dedication. The day of atonement is purely religious with no fast ties to any special date. The festivals can be considered also in their relations to the family, to sanctuaries, to communities or to the central sanctuary.
2. Provisions of the Priest Code.
For a historical review of the festal system the priestly document furnishes the basis, since it is the most developed. The classical passages are Lev. xxiii; for the Passover Ex. xii. 3-20, 43-50; for the Sabbatical and jubilee years Lev. xxv; the institution of the offerings is in Num. xxviii.-xxix. The result of these enactments is as follows: Through the twofold daily offering each day becomes a religious festival and to this daily offering the special offerings of particular occasions are additions (Num. xxviii. 3 sqq.). The Sabbath (q.v.) is a day consecrated to God with absolute rest, convocation at the sanctuary, and special offerings (Num. xxviii. 9). The Passover is a house festival celebrated on the fourteenth day of the first month in commemoration of the immunity of the Israelites in the final Egyptian plague; the paschal lamb is eaten with unleavened bread and its blood is sprinkled on the door-posts. The feast of unleavened bread begins on the fifteenth day of the first month and continues seven days; during the whole period special offerings are made, and the first and last days are rest days with special convocations. Ex. xii. 17 brings it into connection with the Exodus, Lev. xxiii. 9-14 connects with it the feast of first-fruits, after which the new harvest might be enjoyed. Pentecost or the feast of weeks depends upon this, occurring seven weeks later, celebrated as a rest day and time of special offerings and convocation. The feast of tabernacles begins on the fifteenth day of the seventh month and continues eight days, the first and last of which are days of convocation, each day having its special offering. While this feast commemorates the sojourn in the wilderness, Lev. xxiii. 39 brings it into connection with the harvest. The new moons are celebrated with special offerings (Num. xxviii. 11-15); the new moon of the seventh month is a rest day with convocation, blowing of the trumpet, and special offerings. The Day of Atonement, occurring on the tenth day of the seventh month, is an absolute rest day with convocation and its own ritual of offerings, a penitential festival with fasting and high-priestly atonement for sin and impurity. The Sabbatical year occurs once in seven years, the land is not cultivated, and the products are common property. The jubilee year falls at the end of a cycle of seven Sabbatical years, therefore every fiftieth year. It begins on the day of atonement with the blowing of trumpets, involves a complete rest of the land, and the people recover their earlier possessions and Hebrew slaves their freedom. The basis of this is the idea that the land is Yahweh's, while his people are his guests, his servants, and therefore not man's servants. The religious interest is dominant throughout. Passover, unleavened bread, and the feast of tabernacles are commemorative. Especially closely connected with religious ideas are the day of atonement, and the Sabbatical and the jubilee year. All, with the exception of the Passover, are celebrated with convocations at the sanctuary with collective offerings, among which offerings for sin are constant excepting at the daily and Sabbath sacrifice. The times are fixed by the months, yet the feasts of unleavened bread, of Pentecost, and of booths are related to the seasons and to agriculture.
3. Comparison of Other Codes.
Ezekiel (xlv. 17-xlvi. 15) omits Pentecost, and locates the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month, with a seven days' use of unleavened bread, with daily sacrifice of burnt offerings, food-offerings, and sin-offerings. And he places the feast of tabernacles on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, continuing seven days with special offerings. On the days of new moon and Sabbath, offerings are required, and a daily morning offering consisting of burnt offering and food-offering. On the first day of the first and of the seventh month the sanctuary is to be cleansed by the blood of a sin-offering. Thus Ezekiel is close to the Priest Code, though the prince makes the offerings in the name of the people, the feasts are fewer, atonement day appears to be semiyearly, and the household Passover is not mentioned. The Deuteronomic passage is xvi. 1-17, and deals with three great festivals at the central sanctuary. In the month of Abib occurs the Passover, not a celebration at home, but at the central sanctuary and for a single day, though unleavened bread is to be eaten for seven days in memory of the hurried flight from Egypt. Pentecost is celebrated seven weeks after the commencement of harvest at the central sanctuary with enjoyment of the gifts brought. The feast of tabernacles is loosely placed at the close of the harvest and vintage and is also celebrated at the central sanctuary. Thus Deuteronomy differs from the Priest Code and Ezekiel in not fixing exactly the time of celebration, the accompaniment of sin-offering is lacking, and the offerings are not those of the community as a whole, but are enjoyed as festal meals. The Sabbath celebration is provided for in the Deuteronomic decalogue, and the basis is humanitarian. There is no Sabbatical or jubilee year, though a release of Hebrew debtors and slaves takes place. The festival of new moon does not appear, still less the day of atonement or the double temple cleansing of Ezekiel. The exposition of the Yahwistic Code is complicated by Deuteronomic redaction of the passages which deal with the festivals (Ex. xxiii. 10-17, xxxiv. 18-26; cf. xii. 34, 39, xiii. sqq.). As they stand these passages involve a seven days' festival of unleavened bread in Abib (commemorative), a harvest festival (of first-fruits), and a feast of ingathering at the close of the year. The Sabbath has the same humanitarian basis as in Deuteronomy, and the products of the land in the seventh year are common property. Ex. xxxiv. mentions again these same three festivals, but the feast of weeks bears the same name as in Deuteronomy, and verses 25, 19-20 indicate that the Passover did not originate with Deuteronomy.
4. Order of Development of the Codes.
This review shows that the Priest Code and the Yahwistic Code stand at the two extremes of the development, with Ezekiel and Deuteronomy coming in between; and, further, it is clear that the order is JE, Deuteronomy, Ezekiel, and P. The historical writings confirm this result. Thus in Neh. viii. 14 sqq. mention is made of a festival of the Priest Code (feast of booths) of which it is expressly said "since the days of Joshua … had not the children of Israel done so." In II Kings xxiii. 21-23, is found another note of similar character, related to the celebration at the central sanctuary. The prophetical writings are in connection with the Yahwistic Code, and earlier history also accords with this. A sacrificial feast in the city of Samuel is mentioned in I Sam. ix. 12 sqq., and a family festival and sacrifice in Bethlehem in I Sam. xx. 6. There are pilgrimages also to sanctuaries where a festal meal is eaten (I Sam. i. 3 sqq.; cf. Hos. ix. 4-5). Mention occurs often of an ancient festival (Judges xxi. 19; I Kings viii. 2), while a festival of the northern kingdom is placed in the eighth month (I Kings xii. 32) which is probably the retention or reinstitution of an old custom, and has relation to the feast of booths. Frequent mention occurs of the Sabbath and the new moon, though the latter was not legislated for in the earliest codes. I Sam. xxv. 2 sqq. and II Sam. xiii. 23 mention a festival of sheep-shearing, the characteristic of which was a somewhat exuberant joy. The ethical character of the religion of Israel perhaps led to the exclusion of this festival from the national observances.
5. Changes in Character of Festivals.
Detailed examination leads to the conclusion that festivals of an agricultural character became religious observances, and at the same time the earlier character of family or local celebration changed and took a national form. The separation from the natural circumstances of their celebration is marked by exact determination of dates, while new occasions of purely religious significance came in, such as the two purifications of Ezekiel and the day of atonement. Deuteronomy is the turning-point, where the festivals still have as a motive rejoicing before Yahweh (xiv. 26, xvi. 11); but the first step toward the separation of the festivals from the environment of nature amid which they arose and the determination of a religious purpose was taken in the centralization of the cultus. Only in the case of the Passover the Priest Code breaks with Deuteronomy and Ezekiel and makes the celebration a home affair, and the lamb loses its sacrificial character. The festal character of these celebrations was not wholly lost under the Priest Code, as is shown by the feast of booths; and Lev. xxiii. still retains recollection of the connection of the three principal feasts with agriculture. The question whether these three, the feasts of unleavened bread, Pentecost and tabernacles, were instituted prophetically by Moses or arose among the Hebrews by adoption from the Canaanites has been variously answered. But Judges ix. 27 gives an account of a festival analogous to the feast of booths. No ground exists, however, for deriving from that source the celebration of the Sabbath (cf. Amos viii. 5). On the other hand the assertion that a Sabbath rest could not originate among a pastoral people is contradicted by facts from the life of the Arabs. The new moon festival probably arose under nomadic conditions, in spite of the silence of the earliest legislation. That the sheep-shearing festival was pre-Mosaic is clear from Gen. xxxviii. 13, and that the Passover had pre-Mosaic antecedents is shown by Ex. iii. 18, v. 3, viii. 21 sqq., etc. Just what its character was in its earliest form is not clear, except that the connection with the first-born which it always had suggests that it was the occasion of presenting the first-fruits to deity. An Arabic festival of the same purport existed.
Besides the festivals already mentioned, two arose in later times. One of these is Purim, the origin of which Esther purports to give, called in II Macc xv. 36 the Day of Mordecai. In Maccabean times arose the feast of the dedication of the temple, beginning on the eighth of Kislew, celebrating the purification of the temple after its defilement by Antiochus Epiphanes (I Macc. iv. 59; II Macc. x. 7, and doubtless the title of Ps. 30). See the articles on the different festivals; also SYNAGOGUE.
1. Sunday and Sabbath.
The primitive Church apparently knew no special feast-days at the first. With the abrogation of the Mosaic law, its feasts also ceased, and it passed for perverted Judaizing legality to retain them (cf. Rom. xiv. 5; Gal. iv. 9-11; Col. ii. 16). The original theory was that for a redeemed Christian every day was a feast-day. At the same time, the need of common devotional festivals in which all could take part led to the practise of keeping these on the day of the week which from the beginning enjoyed a certain distinction as that of the Lord's resurrection (see SUNDAY; cf. Acts xx. 7; I Cor. xvi. 2; Rev. i. 10; Epistle of Barnabas xv. 9; Ignatius, Ad Magnesios, ix. 1; Justin, I Apol., lxvii.). The Sabbath too was observed to some extent, especially in the East and among the Jewish Christians. Yet it was secondary to Sunday; only the Apostolic Constitutions demand the like solemnity for both. In the Roman Church, fasting was observed on the Sabbath; but Gregory the Great declared the prohibition of labor on the Sabbath to be the work of Antichrist--a decision which later contributed a cause for ecclesiastical separation of East and West. The early Church also came to observe Wednesdays and Fridays as days of prayer and partial fasting in commemoration of the condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus (see FASTING, II.).
2. Annual Feasts.
There were also annually recurring feasts in the earliest time. Probably the paschal feast (see EASTER) was always celebrated in some way, preeminently by the Jewish Christians in connection with their former celebration of the Passover, for memorial of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. It was succeeded by a fifty-day season of rejoicing, from which afterward Ascension and Pentecost (qq.v.) grew forth with peculiar solemnity, and was preceded by a season of mourning, attended with fasting of varying length and observance. The institution of these festal celebrations was held to be an affair of ecclesiastical ordering, and often required special justification in the light of New Testament liberty. The first Christian festival which had no connection with feasts of Israel is that of the Epiphany (q.v.). It was fixed on a definite day of the year (Jan. 6) and is thus an "immovable feast," unlike Easter and the festivals dependent on it, which vary from year to year (see CHURCH YEAR; EASTER), and hence are known as "movable feasts." The Epiphany was originally the festival of Christ's baptism. The nativity festival (see CHRISTMAS) first occurs in the West from the middle of the fourth century. In the East, so late as the fifth century, they still celebrated both the birth and baptism of the Lord on Epiphany. In the sixth century, the feast of the circumcision of Christ was introduced as the octave of Nativity; preceding that time, the first of January had been widely observed as a penitential day, with attendant fasting, in order to restrain Christians from the pagan new year festivities (see NEW YEAR FESTIVAL). The Christmas feast was ushered in by a preliminary festal season (see ADVENT), originally of longer duration, but afterward restricted to four weeks; this, too, was a season of penance and fasting in the West (see FASTING, II.).
The three principal festivals, Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas, which with their preceding and following seasons gradually embraced the whole year (see CHURCH YEAR), were supplemented, from time to time, by many minor feasts, many of them introduced only in particular districts, as appears from ancient local calendars (see CALENDAR, THE CHRISTIAN). Only the most important can be mentioned here. The festival of the Trinity (see TRINITY, FESTIVAL OF THE) was not appointed for the Church at large until 1334. The feast of the Blessed Sacrament (festum corporis Christi) occurred in the diocese of Liége from 1246, and was generally adopted in 1264 (see CORPUS CHRISTI). Certain festivals of the cross originated in the East, and two of them became current in the West also (see CROSS, EXALTATION OF THE; CROSS, INVENTION OF THE). Among the feasts of Mary, the Annunciation (Mar. 25; see ANNUNCIATION, FEAST OF THE) is no doubt the earliest. This and the festival of the Purification (Feb. 2) were sometimes regarded as feasts of Christ as well; they date from the fifth century (for the Purification and the many other feasts of the Virgin, see MARY, THE MOTHER OF JESUS CHRIST). Apostles, evangelists, and other New Testament characters all came to have their days; and by degrees the practise grew up of observing an annual commemoration of martyrs on the day of their death, and especially at their tombs (see ANNIVERSARIUS). This was extended to confessors, virgins, and other saints, until nearly every day in the year had its liturgical commemoration of some saint, event, doctrine, or sacred object.
3. The Protestant Churches.
The large number of "holy days of obligation" (i.e., in the Roman Catholic system, days which must be kept by attendance at mass and abstinence from unnecessary servile work) observed in the countries of Western Europe in the latter part of the Middle Ages constituted a real economic difficulty, and there were many complaints of it. When the Reformation began, its tendency was to sweep away the far greater number of such observances. Luther was at first inclined to think that Sunday alone should be kept; but in 1528 he and Melanchthon recommended the observance of Christmas, New Year's Day (Circumcision of Christ), Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost, and allowed, as feasts of the second class, those which had Scriptural warrant. German custom often postpones the celebration of secondary feasts to the following Sunday. The Church of England retained the feasts just named and certain others commonly called (from the old rubricated printing of the prayer-book) "red-letter" days, with special services, and kept a number of "black-letter" or minor festivals in the calendar, with no provision for their observance. The American Episcopal Church retained the red-letter days, and even added to them at the last revision the Transfiguration of Christ (Aug. 6), but omitted the black-letter days from the calendar.* In the Reformed churches as a rule all festivals except Sunday were abolished. Since the middle of the last century there has been a tendency to appoint new festivals; e.g., the German Reformation festival (end of October or beginning of November) and so called festival of the dead (on the last Sunday of the church year in memory of all who have died in course of the year), harvest festival, children's day, missionary Sunday, and the like. National memorial days are often celebrated with religious services. The New England fast-day (see FAST-DAY) and Thanksgiving (q.v.) deserve special mention. The custom of celebrating Easter and Christmas with floral decorations, special music, and sermons on the events commemorated is increasing among all non-liturgical churches.
The tendency in the Roman Catholic Church since the Reformation has been constantly to add new saints' days and other feasts to the calendar, with liturgical observance, but on the other hand to diminish the number of holy days of obligation; thus in the United States at the present time there are none (outside of Sundays) but the Feast of the Circumcision (Jan. 1), the Ascension, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin (Aug. 15), All Saints' Day (Nov. 1), the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8), and Christmas.
* According to the Anglican prayer-books the feasts to be observed throughout the year are as follows. All Sundays; the Circumcision (Jan. 1); the Epiphany (Jan. 6); the Conversion of St. Paul (Jan. 25); the Purification of the Blessed Virgin (Feb. 2); St. Matthias the Apostle (Feb. 24; in leap-year Feb. 25 in the Roman Catholic Church); the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin (Mar. 25); St. Mark the Evangelist (Apr. 25); St. Philip and St. James the Apostles (May 1); the Ascension; St. Barnabas the Apostle (June 11); the Nativity of St. John Baptist (June 24); St. Peter the Apostle (June 29); St. James the Apostle (July 25); the Transfiguration (Aug. 6; in the American Episcopal Church only); St. Bartholomew the Apostle (Aug. 24); St. Matthew the Apostle (Sept. 21); St. Michael and All Angels (Sept. 29); St. Luke the Evangelist (Oct. 18); St. Simon and St. Jude the Apostles (Oct. 28); All Saints (Nov. 1); St. Andrew the Apostle (Nov. 30); St. Thomas the Apostle (Dec. 21); the Nativity (Dec. 25); St. Stephen the Martyr (Dec. 26); St. John the Evangelist (Dec. 27); the Holy Innocents (Dec. 28); Monday and Tuesday in Easter-week; Monday and Tuesday in Whitsun-week.