In this short book, Pieper provides, as the subtitle puts it, “a theory of festivity.” At the heart of his thesis is the claim that festivity is a wholehearted affirmation of what is. Festivity is, in its essence, an outburst of the affirmation pronounced by the Creator upon his creation at the dawn of existence: that it is καλόν — good and beautiful in every way.
Pieper begins by tracing the origins of the festival in its earliest forms, both among primitive peoples and in its classical developments. He also traces its origins within Christianity. In this study, Pieper concludes that modern man is, to a great extent, unable to experience the true spirit of festivity. He cannot bring himself to an unequivocal affirmation of being itself, the necessary prerequisite to festivity.
Because of this, modern man has had to invent various pseudo-festivals. Pieper discusses at some length the pseudo-festivities of Revolutionary France and of the various totalitarian states of the twentieth century. In these, as in the commercialist “holidays” of the liberal West, Pieper finds a distinctly un-festive spirit. These are not, as the festival is, the joyous movement of exaltation within and thanksgiving for a freely given gift, but rather a forced concoction, an imposition of the man-made upon man.
In all of this, Pieper offers a cogent reminder that the way of being for which man was made is one of joyous affirmation of the cosmos. Without this — without festivity — man is not man.