Holiday -- come from "holy day" -- is a day set aside for special observance, either religious or secular. Holidays are often marked by public ceremonies, such as parades and religious services, as well as by rest and recreation. Generosity and sharing are functional aspects of some holidays; most holidays are meant to engender a sense of union and of "belonging" among the participants. The festivals of various ancient civilizations shared certain themes -- fertility, death, resurrection, harvest, and thanksgiving -- that are recognized in modern holidays around the world.
In many countries, important religious holidays have official sanction, at least in the sense that these are recognized days of rest from work. Examples are the Christian holy day of Christmas and the Jewish observance of Yom Kippur. For Muslims, the entire month of Ramadan is observed by periods of fasting and meditation. Fasting and feasting are contrasting features of holidays of other religions, too; Jews, for example, also fast on Yom Kippur while Easter is one of the Christian "feast days".
Holidays in some cultures have both secular and religious overtones. For Chinese worldwide, the most important annual holiday marks the arrival of the lunar new year; the observation involves gift-giving and also religious ceremony. The New Year in India, celebrating the last four days of December, is similar in nature.
Patriotic national celebrations are major nonreligious holidays, internationally. These may commemorate independence (the US 4th of July), a historic event (the French Bastille Day or Mexico Cinco de Mayo), or a leaderís birthday (in Japan, the emperorís). In the US, each state proclaims its own holidays, but the US government establishes legal holidays for the District of Columbia and for all the federal employees nationally, and by tradition, the states also observe these holidays.
1. Explain why the word holiday comes directly from "holy day".
2. Make a list of the main holidays in your own country.
3. Which holiday do you consider the most important? Why?
4. How were holidays celebrated in ancient times?
5. Think of some reasons why Christmas and New Year became the most important holidays among Christians all over the world.