Intended to spark thinking about holidays and celebrations in general, here are some thoughts on the role of holidays.
Holidays are not unique to Judaism; various communities have created myriad holidays. Here are some of the reasons that groups celebrate holidays:
- To celebrate a seasonal change
- To celebrate a good event (like the fall harvest)
- To thank God
- To appease God
- To affirm God’s role in the world
- To affirm some concept or value
- To honor a cause or event
- To affirm one’s identity
- To affirm a group’s identity
- To change or alter one’s awareness of daily life (e.g. by resting on Shabbat)
- To remember the event’s of a group’s history
Can you think of other reasons that groups celebrate holidays?
There are also reasons that we, as Jews with a humanistic perspective, celebrate holidays:
- Holidays affirm our identity as Jews
- Affirm our connection with the past, present, and future
- Affirm our identity as Jews because we are participating in something that is definitely Jewish
- Proclaim our identity – when we celebrate Hanukkah during Christmas season, it tells the community that we are doing something different – and it reinforces that notion in our own eyes
- Holidays affirm our identity as Jews with a humanistic perspective
- We view the holidays a bit differently than many other Jews
- We infuse our celebrations of Jewish holidays with our values and rituals and affirm not only our membership with the Jewish people, but with our own philosophic world-view that focuses on the role of humanity
- Holidays helps us celebrate, remember, and affirm many concepts including:
- Values we hold dear
- Events that bind us to our people
- Our awareness of nature and our place within the world
- The interdependence of life
- A sense of transcendence – part of being part of something larger than ourselves (nature, the Jewish people, etc.)
- Holidays affirm and strengthen our bonds with our local community (and online community!)
- Holidays make stronger our personal identity by strengthening our connection with other Jews on a regular and intimate basis
- Holidays do not exist to be celebrated alone – but with people
The development of holidays
Holidays change over time because people change and the world in which they live changes. People develop different world-views over time, and different understandings of why events occur.
The way we perceive the world has become more complex over time, so holidays move from more concrete to more abstract and from simple to more complex.
Though we change the way we understand certain holidays, we rarely cease to recognize a holiday altogether. This is because it’s hard to create from scratch significant days for the community. Instead, it’s easier to reshape old holidays to reflect new values and ideas.