Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/539

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
523
THE ORIGIN OF HOLIDAYS.

serious. Thus it came to pass that religion and the Church appropriated so many of Nature's festivals; that the Roman Saturnalia became our precious Christmas, the full-moon spring equinoctial feast grew into our beautiful Easter, and the harvest feast took the form of a Thanksgiving service.

These changes suggest the function and future of holidays in the light of their origin. As shown above, the psychical growth of man from an emotional to an intellectual creature has almost entirely changed the function of holidays. The truest survivals of the primitive emotional reflex-action function is seen in the children's April-fool's-day and our modern wedding shows. But the element of association, which was the genesis of our periodic days, is of more lasting power. The intense rush and struggle for existence of the modern world found less time for occasional festivals, and so needed more of the periodical reminders of events which our fathers or our ancestors first celebrated. But we note now an appearance of decadence which seems inevitably to await holidays. The original cause for the day being forgotten, from being a day of amusement, joy, and gayety, set apart in honor of some person or in commemoration of some event, it became a consecrated day, a religious anniversary or national festival, until it acquired the modern distinctive characteristic of a day of exemption from labor. To be sure, a feast always necessitated a change from ordinary occupations, but this was only an incidental condition to the expression of emotion. This function of a "rest-day" came into prominence, as we have noticed, with the Accadians and Babylonians, but it naturally has only become predominant in a pre-eminently industrial age. For the sake, then, of inculcating Mr. Spencer's text, "Work to live, and not live to work," if for nothing else, holidays still have a claim to our support; and we as a people are not so far removed from barbarism but that such wholesome texts and demands, even of nature, come to us more imperatively and efficiently in the guise of custom or in the name of religion. So, though our national holidays are fast losing their original meaning, and though church-days, and particularly Sunday, tend to become secularized, let us hold to them, under whatever form or sanction, for the sake of their modern function.

Are we, then, ultimately to lose holidays? Not to be too confidently prophetic, but judging by the historical tendency, we would answer, "Yes" and "No"—yes, as to the distinctive calendar demonstrative days. With the decadence of the emotional function, however, we found that the function of suggestion of deep feeling and many-sided thought remained and increased. Because our sensations mean more to us, because the thousand and one phenomena of our daily life are arranged and related in most delicate articulation, because emotional life will always live