Holidays and Holy Nights: Celebrating Twelve Seasonal Festivals of the Christian Year

Holidays and Holy Nights: Celebrating Twelve Seasonal Festivals of the Christian Year

By Christopher Hill
Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 2003.Paperback, 201 pages.

While there are many books available on the Christian year, few display the imaginative power and spiritual beauty of Christopher Hill's Holidays and Holy Nights, not to mention its lovely design, and care, fully chosen art. The book is a worthy successor to classics in the field, such as Gertrud Mueller Nelson's To Dance With God: Family Ritual and Community Celebration.

Hill has made a discerning selection of one festival per month, ranging from the familiar (Christmas) to the obscure yet fascinating (St. Brigid's Day). He begins with the assumption that, as dwellers within the cycles of the earth, we already know the meanings of the festivals at a deep, intuitive level. He then points toward the experiences that reveal these dynamics in our lives, drawing on both the seasonal traditions of pre-Christian European paganism and specifically Christian customs.

Hill's range of source material is considerable. His poetic prose carries us gracefully from Hippolytus to Bob Dylan, from John Henry Newman to the Beatles, all the while lifting the veil to display the astonishing radiance hidden within holiday traditions. At times his insights are startlingly original and penetrating, such as his treatment of the night visitors, human or otherwise, associated with many of the festivals-of whom trick-or-treaters and Christmas carolers are dim survivors. I, for one, will be watching my doorstep more closely on upcoming festival nights!

Hill writes:

There is much in life that makes us feel small, that takes our stature and dignity from us. The World (in the theological sense, the socially and economically constricted world) is an extremely powerful device for narrowing and distracting our awareness of life. The World wields powerful, subtle, time-tested ploys for fragmenting our attention toward a million objects, through desire, fear, anxiety, social pressure, the whole vast sophisticated bag of tricks that the media and the economy layout in front of us.

In the face of such a grim reality, one can hardly imagine a better cure than this lovely book. Like a patient teacher, Hill takes us by the hand and gently shows us how much we already know, if only we will remember. He gives us a wealth of practices and suggestions that show us how we can return to harmony with the inner rhythms of the year and the spiritual processes hidden therein.

Holidays and Holy Nights will prove an invaluable resource for parents, clergy, and teachers. It will appeal equally to mainstream Christians and to persons interested in the festivals from an esoteric point of view. As the wheel of the year turns, I will return frequently to the treasures of this truly magical book.


May/June 2004