‘Functions of festivals in Early Modern Europe…’University levelEssay History of Popular Culture’What were the functions of popular festivals, etc. in Early Modern Europe?And why did the authorities, civil and ecclesiastical seek to control orsuppress them?’In Early Modern Europe festivals were the setting for heroes and theirstories, to be celebrated by the populace. They posed a change from theireveryday life. In those days people lived in remembrance of one festivaland in expectance of the next. Different kinds of festivals were celebratedin different ways. There were festivals that marked an individual occasionand weren’t part of the festival calendar, like family festivals such asweddings and christenings. Some took place at the same time every year andwere for everyone, like community festivals like the different saints’days. Pilgrimages took place all year round. Annuals festivals likeChristmas and Midsummer always took place on the same day every year.
In those days the average village in Western Europe celebrated at least 17festivals annually, not counting family occasions and saints’ days. Somefestivals, such as Carnival, lasted several days or sometimes even severalweeks. In the Netherlands Carnival started every year at the 11th ofNovember (St. Martin) and culminated in a big festival of ‘Dranck,pleijsier ende vrouwen’ (Drink, fun and women) at the end of the Carnivalperiod, preceding the period of Lent. Festivals were meant to take the minds of the people off their everydaylife , off the hard times and their work. Everyday life in Early ModernEurope was filled with rituals, both religious and secular. Songs andstories played an important role in their lives, although they sometimesadjusted the details of the legends and stories to fit the way they thoughta certain festival should take place. Popular culture was mixed with ecclesiastical culture in many ways. Thestory of St. John the Baptist is a good example of this. The ancient ritualof bathing and lighting fires during Midsummer’s Eve was a remnant of aritual from the pre-Christian period. Fire and water, symbols ofpurification, could be seen as the tools of St. John the Baptist, andtherefore a combination of the two elements of popular and ecclesiasticalculture was obvious. It looks as if the Medieval Church took over thefestival and made it theirs. The same thing happened to the MidwinterFestival, which became linked with the birth of Christ, on 25 December.