Word of the Day


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a day or period when there is a public holiday, often to celebrate a religious event

Origin and usage

Festival came into Middle English from Old French. The word was derived from the medieval Latin ‘festivalis’, which came from the Latin word ‘festum’ meaning ‘a feast’. Festival was first used in the early 15th century as an adjective meaning ‘relating to a feast’, with the noun meaning coming into use at the end of the 16th century. The meaning of ‘a series of performances’ which is currently the most frequent one came into use much later, in the mid 19th century.


For most of its history the word festival was associated with religion, and particularly with the holidays of the Christian calendar. In the days when working people were not entitled to any holidays at all, religious holidays provided a welcome relief from the relentless grind of daily life. Festival derives ultimately from the Latin word for feast and many religious festivals were associated with abundant food and drink, whether this was the festival of Shrove Tuesday before the beginning of Lent and its fasting; the harvest festival when people celebrated the successful completion of the agricultural year; or Christmas, which for many centuries has been an occasion for feasting, even though Christmas Day itself only became a public holiday in the UK in 1834.


“ So tedious is this day, As is the night before some festival To an impatient child, that hath new robes, And may not wear them.”
(William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet)

Related words

bank holiday, public holiday

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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Macmillan Dictionary

Macmillan Dictionary

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