Understanding the Religious Significance of Holiday Traditions
A holiday is a period set aside, either by government or custom, in which normal daytime activities, particularly work or school including religious study, are either suspended or significantly reduced. In general, holidays are meant to let people to celebrate or commemorate an occasion or of communal or religious importance. The word “holidays” itself derives from the Latin word “hola” which means “all.” For the most part, the traditional holiday dates back to what was a Pagan festival, the celebration of the Winter Festival when people would fight and die in ancient temples for the gods. Today, a holiday just about anywhere is a time for giving and receiving gifts, celebrating and being happy.
In the United States, the most popular holidays on each calendar year are Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, and Mother’s Day. Other popular holidays include Anniversaries, Flag Day, Good Friday, Independence Day, Halloween, and New Year’s. While national holidays are not as common in the United States as they are in other countries, there are still quite a number of states that have regular state-specific holidays such as Hawaii’s or Illinois’ State holiday. Some states, like Rhode Island, even have two separate holidays: New Year’s and Christmas. On the whole, though, the United States has a typical holiday calendar lasting between three and five days, with about one third of the year being Sundays and about a quarter of it being holidays.
In many countries around the world, similar to the United States, holidays are based on the calendar and are widely recognized worldwide. In other countries around the world, however, holidays are based on the particular religious beliefs of a country. For example, Christians have their own holidays devoted to St. Valentine’s Day and St. John’s Day, while Muslims celebrate their festivals of fasting and worship during the holy month of Ramadan.
In Canada, for example, there was Canada Day which was celebrated on the last Friday of the month of July, depending on the province. On this day, all shops in Canada are closed, and most municipal buildings remain shut. The only public gatherings that take place are those which involve Canadian companies, police officers, members of the armed forces and members of the clergy. This form of “business closure” is actually a major tourist attraction, as most of the residents take time off from work to visit their favorite places. Businesses and other organizations pay a considerable amount of money for renting out shops, which are usually kept open throughout the year to cater to visitors, and thereby maintain a sense of community spirit that can otherwise be lost during regular business hours.
In Germany, on the other hand, Christmas and Easter are two holidays that are far more closely associated with the religious meaning of the season. Unlike Canada, Germany has a week-long Christmas break, and the entire country breaks on February 14th. In addition, unlike Canada, Germany does not recognize World War II as a holiday. Both of these holidays, therefore, allow individuals to spend some time away from work and get in some quality time with family and friends, which, in itself, can help reduce stress.
While the above examples demonstrate that there is certainly a significant religious meaning to most of the world’s major holidays, it should be noted that many of the most popular holidays around the world also have a significant social significance to the people who celebrate them. In America, for example, Thanksgiving and Halloween are considered to be important religious holidays, as well as causes for a lot of social interaction. In Canada, by contrast, Christmas is seen as a time for relaxation and contemplation. By contrast, in Germany, Easter is seen as a time for sharing and giving, while Hanukkah is primarily a celebration of the Jewish religion. With this in mind, it should be easy to see how the customs and traditions that surround major religious holidays can have a significant impact on how people feel throughout the year.