‘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.
There are many more examples to be found, such as the connection betweenSt. Martin and geese caused by the fact that the St. Martins Day (11November) coincided with the period during which the people used to killtheir geese in the period preceding the Christian period.
Carnival plays a special role in popular culture in Early Modern Europe.
It is a great example of a festival of images and texts. It was a popularfestival, taking on different forms in different regions of Europe. Asidefrom regional variations, these differences were also caused by factorssuch as the climate, the political situation and the economical situationin an area.
On a whole Carnival started in late December or early January and reachedits peak upon approaching Lent. The actual feast, taking place at the endof the festive period, could take days and would usually involve large quantities of foodand drinks. The festival took place in the open air in the centre of atown or city. Within a region, the way Carnival was celebrated varied fromtown to town. The festival was a play, with the streets as a stage and the people asactors and spectators. They often depicted everyday life scenes and madefun of them. Informal events took place throughout the Carnival period.
There was massive eating and drinking, as a way of ‘stocking up’ for Lent.
People sang and danced in the streets, using the special songs of Carnival,and people wore masks and fancy-dress. There was verbal aggression, insultswere exchanged and satirical verses were sung. More formally structures events were concentrated in the last days of theCarnival period. These events took places in the central squares and wereoften organised by clubs or fraternities. The main theme during Carnival was usually ‘The World Upside Down’.
Situations got turned around. It was an enactment of the world turnedupside down. Men dressed up as women, women dressed up as men, the richtraded places with the poor, etc. There was physical reversal: peoplestanding on their heads, horses going