Festivals: A psychological and anthropological treatment
#1
This is with regard to the ongoing discussion on secular festivals. A friend of mine recently shared this message: "Celebrating both light and darkness this week smile Happy Diwali and Halloween to everyone!" Speaking of Halloween, I was wondering how what is essentially a parade of grotesquerie became such a popular, and increasingly global, festival and how come people find so much enjoyment in being scared out of their wits by terrifying costumes. The following video clip from a PBS documentary about a similar festival in Switzerland called Fasnacht offered quite a few insights.
Clip from "Carl Jung: The Wisdom of The Dream" (Watch for 10 or so minutes)

The contemporary relevance of the Jungian interpretations is the subject of an altogether different discussion. However, some points made in the clip are pertinent to the ongoing discussion on secular festivals.
(i) Rather than designing 'secular festivals' from the bottom up with a modern idiom, recycling primal pagan symbolism divested of any mysticism, like the Fasnacht revellers, maybe more practicable.
(ii) Revelry involves a suspension of decorum and a greater license for informality than usual and therefore the revelers must brace for some puritanical reproaches (like Valentine's Day protests in India)
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#2
Can these count as secular festivals?
http://www.comicconindia.com/
http://jaipurliteraturefestival.org/
Can these replace the religious festivals, who have an advantage of being on holidays?
Can we initiate more of those, any ideas ?
Can we make religion obsolete ?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5tGpMcFF7U
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#3
One reason why communities still seem willing to invest in archaic-seeming festivals despite the cost in terms of lost working days, is perhaps because of the payoff it offers in terms of creating a playspace of sorts for revelry that may not be encouraged otherwise in a shame society. Shrinking playspaces and playtime in a deadline-ridden work-culture may mean that the appeal of such festivals as challenges to the routine will continue to endure. If freethinkers wish to create their own festivals, these must simultaneously meet the criteria of creating a playspace that is still a safe-space.

To the list of events without any explicit religious influences which evoke a festive spirit among members sharing particular interests, of which Comicon and literature festivals are a part, we can also add food festivals, notably the iconic Oktoberfest and annual campus festivities such as homecoming and tailgate parties.

Festivities sometimes help mobilize and reinforce loosely knit groups (one of the most famous historical examples being Tilak's Ganesh Chaturti) and sometimes celebrate a sense of community that already prevails, like among alumni groups in campuses or freethought groups where a measure of online camaraderie is available to start with. While revelry makes these events memorable, rituals are what make them recognizable in upcoming editions and even in what is designed as a departure from the routine, rules for acceptable behavior remain indispensable. Unless this is recognized, as reiterated by P Z Myers here, festivities in the secular sphere will remain as susceptible to lapses of civility of the sort which religious festivities are often known to descend into, sometimes to the extent of becoming a law-and-order concern.

Festival memes often inherit their appeal from ancestor memes of long cultural life-span and staying power, and working off of these memes seems a more serviceable option than attempting to create upstart memes overnight. Cuisines are among the most stubborn memes that can persist even at odds with survival, and even more so is the notion of sacredness or how an attitude of profound seriousness is conveyed. Here is an illustration courtesy of Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik, of how a traditional meme like the ritual of darshan can be re-purposed as a potent means to endow a secular event like assignment of KRAs with heightened awareness of responsibility.

Science-lovers and freethought advocates wishing to inculcate in broader audiences a sense of wonder about the Universe and a sense of connectedness with humanity at large, have their own notion of darshan or revelation, expressed in the words of the founder of the Griffith Observatory:
Quote:"Man's sense of values ought to be revised. If all mankind could look through that telescope, it would change the world!"
Belief-engineering of this sort, for which 'deconversion' is but Step Zero, requires all the props freethinkers can muster, such as the tried and tested didactic devices of the sort Alain de Botton suggests. Like Devdutt Pattanaik's repurposing of darshan, satsangs can be repurposed for collective sessions of shared wonderment, and shared exploration, of Nature. When the project is as onerous as a 'revision of society's sense of values', every teachable moment needs to be exploited, including the conventional festivals. Diwali for instance seems an apposite time to turn the spotlight on rural electrification, urban pollution and prevailing injustices like child labour, as Prof. Kancha Ilaiah does here. While Prof. Ilaiah's post serves a consciousness-raising function, festivals can be good excuses for slipping in quick science snippets as well, with a Merry Yule wish.






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