On Feasts: How to Celebrate Festivals Festively

Feast of St Benedict of Nursia

OVER 100 years ago in 1906, Kurt Eisner, a communist intellectual, wrote a book titled Festivals of the Unfestive. In this work he pondered the possibility of the death of feasts: “Perhaps the time is approaching when festivals, as mass manifestations of an intensified sense of life, will be nothing more than curiosities to be studied from old pictures and artifacts preserved in ethnological museums.”

I fear Eisner’s prediction is coming to pass. I think festivity is on the verge of extinction. And this is something unprecedented in the history of humanity. While the roots of this problem are deep and variegated, part of the problem is simply ignorance. Can you define a feast?

Josef Pieper, a great twentieth-century Catholic philosopher, has written a magnificent piece on the subject of feasts under the simple and succinct title: “What Is a Feast?” (He has also written a short book titled In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity). Originally delivered as one of four lectures for the annual Pascal Lectures on Christianity and the University (at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada in November, 1981), Pieper spells out seven characteristics of a feast:

  1. Something special, unusual, an interruption in the ordinary passage of time.
  2. An activity that is meaningful in itself, i.e., becoming contemplative and confronting higher realities on which existence rests.
  3. A renunciation of the yield of a day's labor, i.e., a free-will offering, a sacrifice.
  4. A phenomenon of existential wealth, the absence of calculation, lavishness.
  5. Joyful with joy as the response of a lover upon receiving what he loves. In St John Chrysostom’s words: “Where love rejoices, there is festivity.”
  6. Underlying festive joy is a universal affirmation extended to the entire world, to the reality of things and to the existence of man (this even includes the celebrations of the dead!).
  7. Ritual praise in the public worship of the Creator of this world is a radical assent to the world and the most festive form of festivity.

Now let me add an eighth characteristic: a table with people gathered around food and drink, following a period of fasting. Always!

Understanding the nature of a feast, however, is only part of the solution. For as Pieper also notes early on in his lecture, the corresponding question remains to be answered: “What should be done so that men in our time may preserve or regain the capacity to celebrate real festivals festively – a capacity which concerns the heart of life and perhaps constitutes it.” This is the real challenge: how to recapacitate humans living in a disenchanted secular age to celebrate feasts, as defined above, festively.

What shall we do then? This is the easy part, I think, at least in terms of prescription. The Church has a long history of feasting and fasting. Seasons of fasting and feasting are built into the structure and rhythm of the Church’s liturgical year (hence Lent before Easter and Advent before Christmas). There are major feasts (twelve of them plus Pascha, in the Orthodox tradition), minor feasts (e.g., Synaxis of the Holy Angels, Nativity of St John the Forerunner & Baptist, Circumcision of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, et al), and feast days for various saints. In fact, there is a feast for every single day of the year (today we commemorate St. Benedict of Nursia). Or, as the medieval Latin phrase puts it, while also providing some insight into the purpose of the liturgical year: Annus est Christus (the year is Christ). So whether we are celebrating an event from the life of Christ or celebrating the life of a saint, every single day of the entire year is the day of Salvation; they all point us to the salvific and deifying work of Christ.

The prescription for learning to celebrate feasts festively, then, is easy for at least two reasons. First, we all know that practice makes perfect. So we have to practice feasting. And second, the Church has given us the content for that feasting in the liturgical year.

I hope you attend a church that takes this rich heritage of fasting and feasting seriously. And I hope you are being made into the likeness of Christ as you participate in that cycle. If your church is not liturgically oriented, I encourage you to visit one and to seriously consider participating in the rhythm of one full liturgical year. But in the meantime, you can get a taste of what a feast is meant to be by attending one of several feasts organized by Eighth Day Institute, including the Feast of the Nativity according to the Flesh of Our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, the Festal Banquet at the annual Eighth Day Symposium, Hall of Men gatherings (intentionally designed to serve as a sort of mini-feast), and the annual Inklings Oktoberfest.


Annual Inklings Lecture by Ralph Wood on G. K. Chesterton as the Father of the Inklings
Inklings Microbrewery Walking Tour with Ralph Wood and Richard Rohlin
Oktoberfest with live music, Inklings and craftsmanship seminars, kids activities, food and pints


1) Join Ralph Wood for a private conversation this Saturday at 2 pm (priceless!)

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3) Receive an early-bird all-access pass to the 9th annual Eighth Day Symposium ($110 early rate value) with Hans Boersma, Adam Cooper, David Ford, and Ephraim Radner on "Eros & the Mystery of God: On the Body, Sex & Asceticism"

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Patrick_square_2.jpgAnd of course, there is also the Feast of St Patrick, which we will be celebrating this weekend. REGISTER HERE and join us as we celebrate the life of St Patrick, the Enlightener of Ireland. We'll have food and drink around a table, prayers and creed, bagpipes and the Book of Kells, a lesson on C. S. Lewis and the life of St Patrick, and live music by the Jack Korbel Confluence.

Erin Doom is the founder and director of Eighth Day Institute. He lives in Wichita, KS with his wife Christiane and their four children, Caleb Michael, Hannah Elizabeth, Elijah Blaise, and Esther Ruth.

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January Eighth Day Symposium - $125 Value

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