10 stories of origins of our favorite festivals

It’s all about colours, dress-ups, dress downs, parades and candies and lights and songs. Festivals are indeed an escape from life with shenanigans so tremendously intriguing that they pluck you away from humdrums of your monotonous life and take you into their joyous arms. But ever wonder how they came into being, of how they started filling our life with myriad of colours?

10) April fools

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Although this is not an official holiday (we wish it was though), but we thought of starting the article lightly. In truth, many conflicting theories rival for being the real basis of this festival. Theory one is most popular and says that the connection between April 1 and pranks was first mentioned in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales from 1392. In “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale,” a fox tricks proud rooster Chauntecleer on “syn March bigan thritty dayes and two”, which was mistook as being March 32, or simply, April 1 (it meant 32 days after March). Second theory says that it was a result of people’s urge to celebrate the turning of the seasons around springtime. In fact, many cultures have historically held such celebrations around the beginning of April. Still some believe April Fools’ Day got its start because of the adoption of a new calendar in 1582. Many ancient cultures celebrated New Year’s Day around April 1. So, it is all very confusing, but isn’t that how April Fool’s Day should be-chaos, fun and even more chaos?

9) Mardi Gras

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Mardi Gras is a beautiful commemoration of colours, costumes and multi-cultured people. The origins of this fest date back thousands of years to a Pagan celebration of spring and fertility, Saturnalia and Lupercalia. When Christianity started in Rome, religious leaders decided to incorporate these popular local festivals into it rather than abolishing them entirely. Thus, the celebration of abundance was marked as a prelude to Lent, the 40 days of penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Traditionally, it involved people bingeing on all the meat, eggs, milk and cheese that remained in their homes, as a preparation for several weeks of eating only fish and fasting during Lent. In France, the day before Ash Wednesday came to be known as Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday.” Thus, “Mardi Gras” was coined in France along with the derivation of word “carnival” from “carnelevarium” that means to take away or remove meat.

8) Hanukkah

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The events that inspired this holiday took place during a disorderly phase of Jewish history. Antiochus III, the Seleucid king of Syria, who allowed the Jews who lived there to continue practicing their religion, took control of Judea in around 200 B.C. This was in stark contrast to his son, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, as he banned the Jewish religion and ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods. His soldiers massacred thousands of people, desecrating the city’s holy Second Temple by erecting an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs within its sacred walls. But a rebellion led by Jewish priest Mattathias and his five sons, was started against Antiochus and the Seleucid monarchy, driving them away successfully within two years. Their leader then, Judah, known as Judah Maccabee (“the Hammer”), called on his followers to cleanse the Second Temple, rebuild its altar and light its menorah—the gold candelabrum whose seven branches represented knowledge and creation and were meant to be kept burning every night, giving life to the lights and celebrations of the beautiful Hanukkah. The mesmerizing miracle that breathes the air into the festival is that the oil burning the lights lasted eight days instead of expected one night, thus creating the yearly eight-day festival.

7) La Tomitina

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All of you know this festival as the one where people throw tomatoes at each other in Spain and right you are, but a better insight won’t hurt, will it? It all started on 29th of August, 1945, when some young guys decided to join the Giants and Big-Heads figures parade. One of them fell, and in a fit of rage, he started running like a maniac, hitting everyone in his path which accidentally disrupted a market of vegetables. The agitated crowd thus, started pelting tomatoes at each other, their rage turning to fun-filled delight. Next year, the tomato fight was premeditated but it was later broken up by the police. Later on, La Tomitina was banned in the 50s, but the Spaniards united against the authorities by protesting via a tomato burial, that is, the residents carried a coffin with a huge tomato inside. Thus, it was reinstated again, and as it gained more popularity, it was declared Festivity of International Tourist Interest by the Secretary Department of Tourism due to its success in 2002, thus making the festival what it is now! Hurl away you guys (we will sit and watch).

6) Easter

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The Greek word for Easter is pascha, properly translated everywhere in the Bible as “Passover.” But actual beliefs say otherwise as indeed, Easter was the blatant example of the Christianity accepting many Pagan practices. The exact origins of this religious feast day’s name are unknown as some say. Some sources claim the word Easter is derived from Eostre, a Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility. But in reality, Easter was a form of the pagan Cybele cult that said that Cybele’s lover Attis, was born of a virgin, died and was reborn annually. Thus, the festival celebrated rebirth, and this spring festival began as a day of blood on Black Friday, rising to a crescendo after three days, in rejoicing over the resurrection. To avoid the violent conflict between the Christians and the pagans, church had to incorporate the festival. Even bunnies are a leftover shenanigan from the pagan festival of Eostre, a great northern goddess whose symbol was a rabbit or hare. Eventually, cards, gifts and the egg shaped chocolates came unto being too.

5) Thanksgiving

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We hear Thanksgiving and we think of the turkey, yams, and pilgrims. But what of the pilgrims, indeed? The first documented thanksgiving services in territory currently belonging to the United States were conducted by Spaniards and the French in the 16th century. And indeed, this festival took birth in the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1607, with the first permanent settlement of Jamestown, Virginia holding a thanksgiving in 1610.The Americans commonly call the commemoration of this festival as “First Thanksgiving”, which was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World in October 1621, and lasted for three days, and was attended by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims. Squanto, a Patuxet Native American, taught these Pilgrims how to catch eel and grow corn and served as an interpreter for them. Squanto had learned the English language during his enslavement in England. It is deduced that the event occurred between Sept. 21 and Nov. 11, 1621.The feast was cooked by the four adult Pilgrim women who survived their first winter in the New World, along with young daughters and male and female servants, and this feast thus made a mark in history as our beloved Thanksgiving.

4) St. Patrick’s Day

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This cultural and religious celebration held on 17 March, to remember and honour the traditional death date of Saint Patrick, the foremost patron saint of Ireland and was made an official Christian feast day in the early 17th century. Why, you ask? It is a day that celebrates Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland and celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish in general. Patrick was simple missionary and bishop in Ireland who was born into a wealthy family in Britain. He was kidnapped by Irish raiders at the age of sixteen and he spent the next six years working as a slave in Gaelic Ireland. Then, a fine day, he claimed he found God who asked him to flee the coast and thus he ran away and once home, became a priest. According to tradition, Patrick returned to Ireland to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity and converted “thousands” too. Patrick’s efforts against the druids were eventually turned into an allegory in which he drove “snakes” out of Ireland and history says that he died on 17 March and was buried at Downpatrick. Over the following centuries, many legends grew up around Patrick and he became Ireland’s foremost saint, thus making his death a day of remembrance as the St. Patrick’s Day.

3) Valentine’s Day

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Hearts and flowers, heartbreaks and rejections, this bittersweet festival is the one whose roots are known to many (at least to some extent). But the day of love has many different, but all sad origins as the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. First legend says that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for young men as he thought family made men weak as soldiers, Valentine, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret but on discovery, was put to death. Some legends believe that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured while others say that an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl–possibly his jailor’s daughter–who visited him during his confinement, signing his letters as “your valentine”. It is also believed that the festival was deliberate Christian attempt to replace the pagan celebration of Lupercalia, a fertility festival held in mid-February. But for your sanity, the first legend is believed by most to be the true origins of the festival of love.

2) Halloween

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The start of sweet Halloween dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The Celts celebrated their New Year on November 1, the mark of end of summer and beginning of the cold dark, a time of Death for them and thus believed that on the New Year’s Eve, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. Thus, Samhain was celebrated, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth, on the night of 31st October. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts assumed good of the spirits as they believed that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. Thus, the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities and wore costumes in order to be like the spirits and the otherworldly, to make the priests’ work easy. As the Celtic religion mixed with the Roman, several rituals and additions were made. In 1000 A.D., the church made November 2 All Souls’ Day, which is believed to be the church’s attempt to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. The All Saints Day celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas and the night before it, the traditional night of Samhain in the Celtic religion, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.

1) Christmas

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Christmas is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, as we all know already the exact reason to celebrate this auspicious day of faith, hope, love for the loved ones, forgiveness for others. The Nativity of Jesus states that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in accordance with messianic prophecies, in a stable, as when Joseph and Mary arrived in the city, the inn had no room. The Christ Child was thus born, with angels proclaiming this news to shepherds who then disseminated the message furthermore, giving birth to the songs of the angels, the beautiful Christmas carols. It is celebrated by everyone, Christian or non-so, as an integral part of the end-of-the-year holiday season. But why was the date 25th of December chosen? It was merely because of the fact that the early-to-mid fourth century the Western Christian Church had placed Christmas on December 25, a date that was later adopted in the East too. Let’s prep for the trees (and the gifts, actually) please?

As you guys saw how many festivals originated by the confluence of different cultures, you can indeed incorporate it into the festival his time, by sharing the festivities with anyone and everyone, while remembering how it all started (thanks to us). Enjoy!