A holiday is a day set aside by custom or by law on which normal activities, especially business or work, are suspended or reduced. Generally, holidays are intended to allow individuals to celebrate or commemorate an event or tradition of cultural or religious significance. Holidays may be designated by governments, religious institutions, or other groups or organizations. The degree to which normal activities are reduced by a holiday may depend on local laws, customs, the type of job being held or even personal choices.
The concept of holidays has most often originated in connection with religious observances. The intention of a holiday was typically to allow individuals to tend to religious duties associated with important dates on the calendar. In most modern societies, however, holidays serve as much of a recreational function as any other weekend days or activities.
In many societies there are important distinctions between holidays designated by governments and holidays designated by religious institutions. For example, in many predominantly Christian nations, government-designed holidays may center on Christian holidays, though non-Christians may instead observe religious holidays associated with their faith. In some cases, a holiday may only be nominally observed. For example, many Jews in the Americas and Europe treat the relatively minor Jewish holiday of Hanukkah as a "working holiday", changing very little of their daily routines for this day.
The word "holiday" has some variance in meaning across different locales. In the United States the word refers to widely observed days of rest and recreation, whereas in the U.K. and many Commonwealth nations including Canada, the word refers to any extended period of recreation. It is this first, more restricted sense of the word that concerns this article.
The word holiday comes from the Old English word hāligdæg (hālig "holy" + dæg "day"). The word originally referred only to special religious days. In modern use, it means any special day of rest or relaxation, as opposed to normal days away from work or school.
Types of holiday (observance)
Many holidays are linked to faiths and religions (see etymology above). Christian holidays are defined as part of the liturgical year, the chief ones being Easter and Christmas. The Orthodox Christian and Western-Roman Catholic patronal feast day or "name day" are celebrated in each place's patron saint's day, according to the Calendar of saints. Jehovah's Witnesses annually commemorate "The Memorial of Jesus Christ's Death", but do not celebrate other holidays with any religious significance such as Easter, Christmas or New Year's. This holds especially true for those holidays that have combined and absorbed rituals, overtones or practices from non-Christian beliefs into the celebration, as well as those holidays that distract from or replace the worship of Jehovah. In Islam, the largest holidays are Eid ul-Fitr (immediately after Ramadan) and Eid al-Adha (at the end of the Hajj). Ahmadi Muslims additionally celebrate Promised Messiah Day, Promised Reformer Day, and Khilafat Day, but contrary to popular belief, neither are regarded as holidays. Hindus, Jains and Sikhs observe several holidays, one of the largest being Diwali (Festival of Light). Japanese holidays contain references to several different faiths and beliefs. Celtic, Norse, and Neopagan holidays follow the order of the Wheel of the Year. Some are closely linked to Swedish festivities. The Bahá'í Faith observes holidays as defined by the Bahá'í calendar. Jews have two holiday seasons: the Spring Feasts of Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Weeks, called Pentecost in Greek); and the Fall Feasts of Rosh Hashanah (Head of the Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Sukkot (Tabernacles), and Shemini Atzeret (Eighth Day of Assembly).
Northern Hemisphere winter holidays
Winter in the Northern Hemisphere features many holidays that involve festivals and feasts. The Christmas and holiday season surrounds the Christmas and other holidays, and is celebrated by many religions and cultures. Usually, this period begins near the start of November and ends with New Year's Day. Holiday season is, somewhat, a commercial term that applies, in the US, to the period that begins with Thanksgiving and ends with New Year's Eve. Some Christian countries consider the end of the festive season to be after the feast of Epiphany.
Sovereign nations and territories observe holidays based on events of significance to their history. For example, Americans celebrate Independence Day, celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Other secular holidays
Other secular (non-religious) holidays are observed nationally, internationally (often in conjunction with organizations such as the United Nations), and across multi-country regions. An example of a major secular holiday is the Lunar New Year, which is celebrated across Asia. Many other days are marked to celebrate events or people, but are not strictly holidays as time off work is rarely given; examples include Arbor Day (originally US), Labor Day (celebrated sometimes under different names and on different days in different countries), and Earth Day (22 April).
These are holidays that are not traditionally marked on calendars. These holidays are celebrated by various groups and individuals. Some promote a cause, others recognize historical events not officially recognized, and others are "funny" holidays celebrated with humorous intent. For example, Monkey Day is celebrated on December 14, International Talk Like a Pirate Day is observed on September 19, and Blasphemy Day is held on September 30. April Fool's Day on April 1 is also another example.
- Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. Reasoning from the Scriptures. Watchtower, 1985, pp. 176–182
- Susan E. Richardson (July 2001). Holidays & Holy Days: Origins, Customs, and Insights on Celebrations Through the Year. Vine Books. ISBN 0-8307-3442-2.
- Lucille Recht Penner and Ib Ohlsson (September 1993). Celebration: The Story of American Holidays. MacMillan Publishing Company. ISBN 0-02-770903-5.
- Barbara Klebanow and Sara Fischer (2005). American Holidays: Exploring Traditions, Customs, and Backgrounds. Pro Lingua Associates. ISBN 0-86647-196-0.
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