It has been an instinct in nearly all peoples, savage or civilized, to set aside certain days
for special ceremonial observances, attended by outward rejoicing. This tendency to
concentrate on special times answers to man's need to lift himself above the commonplace
and the everyday, to escape from the leaden weight of monotony that oppresses him. “We
tend to tire of the most eternal splendours, and a mark on our calendar, or a crash of bells
at midnight maybe, reminds us that we have only recently been created.”[1]{1} That they
wake people up is the great justification of festivals, and both man's religious sense and
his joy in life have generally tended to rise “into peaks and towers and turrets, into
superhuman exceptions which really prove the rule.”{2} It is difficult to be religious,
impossible to be merry, at every moment of life, and festivals are as sunlit peaks,
testifying, above dark valleys, to the eternal radiance. This is one view of the purpose and
value of festivals, and their function of cheering people and giving them larger
perspectives has no doubt been an important reason for their maintenance in the past. If we
could trace the custom of festival-keeping back to its origins in primitive society we
should find the same principle of specialization involved, though it is probable that the
practice came into being not for the sake of its moral or emotional effect, but from man's
desire to lay up, so to speak, a stock of sanctity, magical not ethical, for ordinary days.

Christmas in Ritual and Tradition Christian and Pagan Clement A Miles

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