“A feast is made for laughter” (The Book of Ecclesiastes).
ONE OF THE THINGS WE ENJOY MOST ABOUT THIS SEASON IS ITS FESTIVITY. The special gatherings, the tinge of excitement, and, of course, the much-anticipated meals come together in a way that is really quite wonderful. And the food is of more than incidental importance. In its most basic sense, “festivity” means “feasting,” and so a festive occasion without food would be a contradiction in terms. But the food is not so much the main ingredient of festivity as it is the catalyst. What we enjoy most of all is what comes from the feasting. Samuel Pepys sensed this when he said, “Strange to see how a good dinner and feasting reconciles everybody.” It’s the human element, the congeniality, that makes a feast “festive.”
We seem to have a built-in need for occasional festivity. Even though too much feasting would not be good for us, it may be that many of us suffer from too little. Our ordinary lives and the routine of our work need to be punctuated by festivities. Now and then we need — we really do need — to enjoy some mirth and merriment. As someone has said, “A life with no festivity is like a long road with no inns.”
Some seasons of the year involve holidays that are festive almost by definition. These times come with the turning of the calendar pages whether we make plans for them or not. But other festivities do have to be planned, and there is great wisdom in giving these arrangements some priority. Lives in which no festivities are planned are not “spontaneous.” They are dull and tiresome . . . and very often fruitless.
The idea of festivity happens to have an interesting companion, and that is the concept of welcome. To say that others are “welcome” is to say, quite literally, “It is well that you have come!” And is this not the major part of any festivity? It’s the welcome presence of other persons who share our delight that turns a humdrum event into a festivity.
So as we feast during this season (however humble our fare may be), let us not be ashamed to enjoy the festive meals that bring us together at the table. But let us also learn the value of having festive hearts. Let us be a people who know the meaning of Welcome! — a folk whose merry hearts are able to enjoy a feast year-round.
“Small cheer and great welcome make a merry feast” (William Shakespeare).