Cover image for The book of the year : a brief history of our seasonal holidays
The book of the year : a brief history of our seasonal holidays
Aveni, Anthony F.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xiv, 192 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Reading Level:
1400 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GT3930 .A94 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
GT3930 .A94 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



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? Why do people behave so bawdily during Mardi Gras? How has the significance and celebration of Christmaschanged over the centuries? 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 egg atEaster, chocolate on St. Valentine's Day), the games we play (bobbing for apples on Halloween, football on Thanksgiving), the rituals we perform (dancing around the Maypole, making New Year's resolutions), and the colorful cast of characters we invent to dramatize holidays (Santa Claus, the EasterBunny, the witches and goblins of Halloween). 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 againstmanagement. The calendar and its holidays, Aveni writes, function as "a kind of metronome that keeps the beat of human activity tuned to the manifold overlapping cycles of life," to the ebb and flow of birth, growth, decay, and death. 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.

Author Notes

Anthony Aveni is the Russell B. Colgate Professor of Astronomy and Anthropology at Colgate University and the author of several books, including Empires of Time and Conversing with the Planets.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Why do we celebrate Easter by telling children that a rabbit will bring them eggs and candy? Why do we make New Year's resolutions? Why do we engage in rituals like bobbing for apples on Halloween, watching football on Thanksgiving, and giving chocolate on Valentine's Day? Aveni, a professor of astronomy and anthropology at Colgate, provides answers to these and many other questions in this delightful little book about the origins and modern development of our holidays. Our red-letter days, he contends, have evolved over the centuries as various cultures use them to reflect specific cultural concerns. For example, Halloween can be traced back to the Celtic festival Samhain, the official first day of winter in early medieval Ireland. On that day, spirits roamed the earth, revisiting their homes, pleading with their relatives for prayers, and eating a warm meal before they returned to their graves. While the modern celebration of Halloween resembles Samhain, Aveni argues that the holiday provides adults with an opportunity to cope with the fear of the unknown by allowing children to dress as ghosts, goblins and spirits. Overall, Aveni contends, we try to gain some control over nature and our lives by capturing the rhythms of the seasons on our calendars and by dividing our lives into segments governed by special days. Although not a thorough and definitive study of seasonal holidays, Aveni's book provides entertaining glimpses into the cultural evolution of holidays, and explores our human desire to make time work in our favor. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Aveni (astronomy and anthropology, Colgate Univ.) considers several modern holidays, discussing where they come from and why they are celebrated when they are. He finds the answer "in the quest to satisfy our deepest inner needs." Some of the earliest rituals and ceremonies originated from watching the seasonal cycles and were established by men to get the outcomes they felt they deserved. When our forebears became sedentary, hunting rituals were transformed into holy rites enacted on specific dates. Early agrarian civilizations keyed several of their ritual celebrations to the birthdays of the gods; Christians eventually changed these to birthdays of saints. Throughout history, holidays have been invented and reinvented to meet specific needs of humans. The 1966 establishment of Kwanzaa, a reaction against consumerism and a desire to give African Americans a festival of their own, demonstrates that the creation of holidays continues to the present. Aveni provides no groundbreaking revelations, but he expertly sums up what is known about the origins and history of some of the Western world's best-known holidays. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Appropriate for all general and academic collections. W. K. McNeil Ozark Folk Center

Table of Contents

Acknowledgementsp. x
Prefacep. xi
The Book of the Yearp. 0
Chapter 1 Creating, Organizing, and Transforming the Holidaysp. 1
Chapter 2 Happy New Year! but Why Now?p. 11
Chapter 3 February's Holidays: Prediction, Purification, and Passionate Pursuitp. 29
Chapter 4 Spring Equinox: Watching the Serpent Descendp. 47
Chapter 5 The Easter/passover Season: Connecting Time's Broken Circlep. 63
Chapter 6 May Day: a Collision of Forcesp. 79
Chapter 7 Summer's Solstice: Feasts of Fire, Water, and Feminine Affairs of the Heartp. 91
Chapter 8 Labor Day: Remembering the Great Time Warsp. 107
Chapter 9 Halloween: Dead Timep. 119
Chapter 10 Thanksgiving: Transcending Pilgrims' Progressp. 135
Chapter 11 Christmas: from Resurrection to Rudolphp. 149
Chapter 12 What Goes Aroundp. 165
Notesp. 171
Referencesp. 177
Indexp. 183