The Book of the Year: A Brief History of Our Seasonal Holidays

The Book of the Year: A Brief History of Our Seasonal Holidays

The Book of the Year: A Brief History of Our Seasonal Holidays

The Book of the Year: A Brief History of Our Seasonal Holidays


What is the connection between May Day and the Statue of Liberty? Between ancient solstice fires and Fourth of July fireworks? Between St. Valentine, the Groundhog, and the Virgin Mary? In The Book of the Year, Anthony Aveni offers fascinating answers to these questions and explains the many ways humans throughout time have tried to order and give meaning to time's passing. Aveni traces the origins of modern customs tied to seasonal holidays, exploring what we eat, the games we play, the rituals we perform, and the colorful cast of characters we invent to dramatize holidays. Along the way, Aveni illuminates everything from the Jack 'O Lantern and our faith in the predictive power of animals to the ways in which Labor Day reflects the great medieval "time wars," when the newly invented clock first pitted labor against management. Vividly written, filled with facts both curious and astonishing, this engrossing book allows us to hear that beat more clearly and to understand more fully the rhythms we all dance to throughout the year.


Christmas, Halloween, Groundhog Day, and St. Valentine's Day, Labor Day, May Day, Passover —where do our holidays come from? Why do we celebrate them when we do and not at some other time? The answers lie rooted in the quest to satisfy our deepest inner needs.

Food and sex are life's raw necessities. And, if you think about it, nutrition and propagation go together. We depend on the proliferation of other species because they lie at the root of our capacity to sustain ourselves—they guarantee our success. Deny us our needs and our passions become inflamed.

Our will to live transforms the fundamental things in life to subjects of veneration. Controlling the magical power of fertility that makes all plants and animals what they are (and us who we are) becomes the object of our desire. Harness that power and we can control the future! But as our ancestors recognized long ago, fertility waxes and wanes: abundance turns to scarcity as heat changes to cold, rain to drought; vegetation gives way to snow, blossoming to withering. The whole earth ebbs and flows. Global carbon dioxide levels rise and fall because of photosynthesis in the vegetation that covers our planet's surface. One “earth breath”—an inhale followed by an exhale—lasts a year, the same time it takes shadows cast by the noonday sun to shorten and lengthen over a full cycle.

The cycle of life, the death and rebirth of all things, operates by extremes, each component with its own turning point signaled by nature's visible cues: when the birds come, when the thistles sprout, when the leaves change colors, when the frost appears. We call this cycle the seasons, or “time due” in Greek—a word that turns out to live up to its meaning.

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