Festivities, Celebrations, and Commemorations

This Review of the Week explores holiday celebrations and other commemorations throughout the world.

Religious celebrations : an encyclopedia of holidays, festivals, solemn observances, and spiritual commemorations

ed. by J. Gordon Melton with James A. Beverley, Christopher Buck, and Constance A. Jones ABC-CLIO, 2011
2v, 9781598842050 $189.00, 9781598842067

religious celebrations book cover

Edited by Melton (Baylor), with ten other contributors, this set features 600 signed entries, organized alphabetically by religious celebration/holiday and intermingling the different religious traditions. Entries range from a couple of paragraphs to several pages; most have several “further reading” references—either classic, older works or recent ones, including some websites. Also featured are credited black-and-white illustrations and a detailed subject index. Readers who are Christians (and probably readers of other faiths) will find some anomalies here. No entry appears under “Jesus” (per se), but two are listed for John the Baptist. An article titled “Blessing of the Fleet” appears, but none for “Blessing of the Animals.” Readers will benefit from the long articles included for each faith. The useful index includes celebrations observed in specific months, keyed to page numbers.

Competing works include Religious Holidays and Calendars, edited by Karen Bellenir (3rd ed., CH, Sep’04, 42-0020); Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, edited by Helene Henderson and Sue Ellen Thompson (2nd ed., CH, Mar’98, 35-3622); and The Oxford Companion to the Year, by Bonnie Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens (CH, May’00, 37-4809). Although the title under review and Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations are both arranged by holiday name, Religious Celebrations sticks to religious occasions. Bellenir’s work—also strictly on religious holidays—is arranged in chapters by religious faiths’ names, with paragraphs devoted to particular religious holidays, sometimes arranged by date and sometimes not. Religious Celebrations usually has longer entries for events (with bibliographies) than Bellenir’s work does. The Oxford Companion, mostly arranged by date, has many quotations and offers the most material about different types of calendars/chronologies. Specific entries’ content on religious holidays varies greatly among these books, but this new work adds considerably to the available information.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through researchers/faculty.
Reviewer: A. H. Widder, Michigan State University
Subject: Reference – Humanities
Choice Issue: Apr 2012