The words “festival” and “celebration” are often used interchangeably, but if you take some time to consider each word and their definitions, the differences between the two will become clear. For example, a celebration can be an individual event such as a birthday party or an engagement, while a festival is a group of events usually organized for a common theme or interest such as music, dancing and food.
A festival is a recurring social phenomenon that occurs in virtually all cultures. Many disciplines such as comparative religion, anthropology, and folklore have focused on the description, analysis and interpretation of festivals.
Most festivals are designed to fulfill specific community purposes including commemoration of religious, ethnic or historical events; giving thanks to gods, goddesses or saints (patronal festivals); entertaining family members; inculcating values and skills through activities such as dancing, singing and poem recitation; and promoting a sense of belonging and geographical connection. Some, such as the Day of the Dead in Mexico, honor deceased loved ones while others, such as Diwali in India, celebrate the start of the Hindu New Year and the victory of good over evil.
The word festival has its origins in religious celebration and feasting and is a special day or period of time set aside to commemorate, ritually celebrate or reenact events or seasons such as harvesting, religious holidays, national heritage, or other significant dates. Some festivals, such as the inauguration of Roman Emperors or other major military victories, have political significance in addition to their religious or cultural meaning.
While the term has been broadened to include cultural ‘events,’ the programming and content of these cultural ‘festivals’ must reflect and serve the original purposes that the festivals were originally created for in order to survive. For example, the recurrence of a festival that incorporates musical performances can provide young musicians with opportunities to grow into successful careers in the field while also preserving the rich and diverse cultures that are celebrated through these concerts.
As a result, the idea of what constitutes a ‘community’ is evolving and changing as well. Traditionally, communities were based on certain ethnicities, geographic locations or shared practices and beliefs; however, now it is not uncommon to see people travelling the world in order to attend various festivals based on their passions and interests. For example, a group of individuals who share a love of a particular style of dance or a genre of music could be considered a ‘community’ that travels together to different events around the globe in order to experience their favorite artists and enjoy the festival culture.