The etymology of the word festival originates from the Latin word festum; however, regarding festival events two Latin terms were used: festum and feria.
Festum refers to “public joy, merriment, revelry”, and feria refers to “abstinence from work in honor of the gods” (Falassi, 1987, p. 2). These terms are used in the plural form – for example, festa and feriae – indicating that “at that time festivals already lasted many days and included many events” (Ibid.). From the term “festa derived the Italian festa (pl. feste), the French fete (pl. fetes) and festiual (adj.), the Spanish fiesta (pl. fiestas)", the Portuguese festa, the Middle English feste, feste dai, festial, then festival – at first an adjective connoting events and then a noun denoting them” (ibid.).
However, today the word festival can take on the following meanings (for example): a “scared or profane time of celebration, marked by special observances”, and an “annual celebration of a notable person or event, or the harvest of an important product”; and it can also mean a cultural affair involving performances of “works in the fine arts, often devoted to a single artist or genre”; it can also refer to “a fair”. For many, it can mean a “generic gaiety, conviviality” and merriment (ibid.).
The existence of festivals may date as far back as when man first walked the earth. Early anthropologists’ preoccupation with the study of festive culture dates back to the late 19th and 20th centuries: their research explored festivity and rituals’ “roots in primitive cultures” (Svoboda, 2010, p. 775).
This research, though conducted by collecting data on what people witnessed, was articulated from an historical standpoint (ibid). Moreover, anthropologists “directly observed actions in tribal societies” to get a deeper understanding “[of] their existence in primal lives and in their own civilization” (ibid). Scholarly research explored festivity while focusing on the social and ritual aspects of events from the perspective of diverse disciplines; for example, “religion, anthropology, social psychology, folklore” (Falassi, 1987, p. 2).