Festivals or rituals?
Festival politics, religiosity and sociability,
The importance of the court jester.

Part I – Introduction to festivals and festival tourism.

The genesis of festivals dates back to primitive times, through rituals in the form of games, similar to today’s festivals, associated with religious holidays, births or the election of new kings. Evolving into seasonal or temporal festivals, passing through ancient Greece and Rome (with more advanced forms of festivals such as the cult of Demeter, Dionisya and Saturnalia), wine and/or food festivals, Carnival (a period of unrestricted freedom and fun, with reversals of social roles and breaking of conventions, with people hiding behind masks) or medieval tournaments, the Renaissance music festivals and the decline of festivals in the 16th and 17th centuries (with the growth of the Anglican Church and Protestantism, with a more austere lifestyle in which forms of entertainment were considered immoral), as well as in the 18th and 19th centuries (with a greater focus on work and a scarcity of leisure time).

New nations such as Italy and Greece contributed to the redevelopment of festivals and the Grand Tour, a rite of passage that gave rise to the concepts of “tourist” and “tourism”. The industrial revolution changed economic and social patterns, contributing to tourism development, and the first world exhibitions appeared, including cultural and entertainment events, such as festivals like Oktoberfest and the Venice Biennale. Cultural and entertainment functions were also promoted in spas, centres of social life and today’s example of a festivalisation space. In the 20th century, civilisational factors that had contributed to the development of festivals in the previous century intensified, which contributed to the festival boom’ in the aftermath of the Second World War, helping to build the economy and industry, particularly cultural, to which the phenomena of the ethics of play and the experience (or spectacle) societies are related, placing the tourist in a place of excitement and satisfaction through participation, including risk, novelty and emotion.

In order to know and understand the sociocultural and experiential phenomenon of festivals, it is important to understand who produces them, why, how they are planned and managed, the reasons for participation, the results and the social dynamics, through 3 different discourses associated with the sociological and anthropological roles, meanings and impacts, festival tourism and management.

Falassi’s definition of a festival refers to an event, a social phenomenon, found in virtually all human cultures, which attracts visitors because of its colour, dramatic choreographic and aesthetic dynamics, deep meanings, historical roots and involvement of natives. Etymologically, in Latin, it has roots in festa (public joy, feast, amusement, rejoicing, revelry), and feria (abstinence from work in honour of the gods). In addition to the community spirit, the antithetical behaviour of the festival destroys social convention in order to reinforce it, which is an important function of transgression festivals, which provide an outlet for a world of hedonistic fun, being a particular type of event whose main phenomenon is the experience and the associated meanings, and whose importance transcends individual experiences.

As a type of event, i.e. a social activity delimited in space/time, it is a unique moment in time celebrated with ceremony and ritual, satisfying specific needs. Its meanings are an integral part of the experience, preceding future behaviour in event tourism. The transformation of these experiences changes beliefs, values, attitudes and, ultimately, behaviour, even if this requires several experiences or occurs as a social bond. These meanings, attributed by social groups, communities and society, are often contested, given the individuality of their interpretation. They are social constructs, with meanings attributed collectively and generally recognised.

Festival tourism is an important part of event tourism, so much so that the term festivalisation reflects the over-commoditisation of its commercial exploitation by tourists and locals. Festivals fulfil all the central proposals of event tourism through attraction, contribution to the image/brand of the destination, entertainment and as catalysts for development, being touristic assets and products, giving rise to touristic flows, and being touristic resources, with multifaceted impacts on different elements of the touristic space, which reflects the individuality of festival tourism.

Compared to event tourism, they present an additional social and cultural complexity, a strongly collective dimension and are practices in which communities express beliefs, celebrate identities and confirm or contest social structures and value systems.

By creating a product and promising a glimpse of the authentic culture of a place, the management of the public/community/festival triangulation, avoiding the domination of the latter by the former, is the lifeblood of a festival. The festival’s primary function is to renounce and announce culture, to periodically renew the community’s life flow by creating new energy, and to sanction its institutions, trying to achieve symbolic meanings of representation of the primordial chaos before creation, or a historical disorder before the establishment of culture, society or regime where the festival takes place, which will only be achieved by the simultaneous presence of all the basic behavioural modalities of everyday social life (distortion, inversion, stylisation or disguise), in order to create a special significant symbolic character, with the presence of inversion, symbolic intensification and symbolic abstinence.

Despite the changes in the festive complex, its importance is primary in all cultures, as there is still no more meaningful way for the human social animal to feel at one with its world than to participate in the special reality of the festival, and the celebration of life in time outside of time.

Festival typologies vary according to Durkheim’s secular/sacred dichotomy, their location, issues of power, social roles or the notion of establishment vs. people. In addition to the elements linked to the organisation of the festival, there are elements linked to the festival’s impact on culture and the community, such as the development of identity and social capital, interpersonal relationships, its basis in extraordinary experiences and generation by social needs, its relationship, rootedness, form, presentation, celebration and consumption of and with culture, and its belonging to the understood human heritage, namely its intangible part.

The festival is a point of convergence in culture-related networks, being the most successful art/tourism endeavour. Art (and artistic activity, classified as a tourist attraction) adds vitality and exclusivity to the destination, and can attract cultural tourists who tend to be more up-scale in terms of accommodation and transport, with potential for attraction outside the high season, and by providing additional attractiveness to the destination’s image in terms of its artistic life, helping to combat seasonality.

Pieper conceives leisure as a mental and spiritual attitude that involves contemplation, celebration and totality, a perspective that has not been adopted by the contemporary leisure field. He discusses the history of the worship of the Greek gods, the Dionysian rites and the importance of ecstatic festivities in supporting society and culture (…). For Pieper, leisure is deeply involved with “a receptive state of mind”, “letting things happen”, and “the basic meaning of the universe and a sense of unity with it”. He believes that the soul of leisure lies in contemplative celebration. It is through festivals that human beings affirm the fundamental meaning of their lives and their place within the universe (Pieper). (Mohr, 2017, p.22)

Leisure can be seen as an opportunity to experience a different level of consciousness, to search for, synthesise and harmonise the “essence of the self”. Maslow’s peak experiences, significant moments of joy, happiness and fulfilment, felt as having deep meaning and emotional feelings, distinct from everyday life, and generated spontaneously, may be the best approximation for approaching ecstasy and the transpersonal, or ecstatic transpersonal experiences.


CUDNY, Waldemar (2016) “The Concept, Origins and Types of Festivals” In Festivalisation of Urban Spaces, Suiça: Springer, pp.11-42.

CUDNY, Waldemar (2013) “Festival Tourism – The Concept, Key Functions and Dysfunctions in the Context of Tourism Geography Studies”, Geographical Journal, 65:2, pp.105-118.

CUNHA, Licínio (2001) Introdução ao Turismo, Lisboa – São Paulo: Verbo.

FALASSI, Alessandro (1987) “Festival: Definition and Morphology”, In Time out of Time: Essays on the Festival, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, pp.1-10.

GETZ, Donald (2010) “The Nature and Scope of Festival Studies”, International Journal of Event Management Research, 5:1, pp.1-47.

GETZ, Donald (2008) “Event tourism: Definition, evolution, and research”, Tourism Management, 29:3, pp.403-428.

GETZ, Donald e PAGE, Stephen G. (2016) “Progress and prospects for event tourism research”, Tourism Management, 52, pp.593-631.

MOHR, Kelci Lyn (2017) Dancing through Transformational Music Festivals: Playing with Leisure and Art, Dissertação de Mestrado, Alberta: University of Alberta.

QUINN, Bernadette (2006) “Problematising ‘Festival Tourism’: Arts Festivals and Sustainable Development in Ireland”, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 14:3, pp.288-306.

TIGHE, Anthony J. (1986) “The Arts/Tourism Partnership”, Journal of Travel Research, 24:3, pp.2-5.

TIGHE, Anthony J. (1985) “Cultural tourism in the USA”, Tourism Management, 6:4, pp.234-251.

Authorship: João Carvalho [1], Victor Afonso [2], Nuno Gustavo [3].

Based on the project work “Business plan. Cosmic Festival. Transformational Festival”, authored by João Carvalho, under the supervision of Specialist Professor Victor Afonso and co-supervision of PhD Professor Nuno Gustavo, for completion of the Master’s Degree in Tourism, with a specialisation in Strategic Event Management, at the Estoril Higher Institute for Hospitality and Tourism Studies. Presented and defended on December 27th, 2019.

May, 2020.

[1] Master’s Degree in Tourism, with specialisation in Strategic Event Management, by Estoril Higher Institute for Tourism and Hotel Studies; Beach Break®.

[2] Specialist Professor (Estoril Higher Institute for Tourism and Hotel Studies; Center for Advanced Studies in Management and Economics at the University of Évora – CEFAGE).

[3] PhD Professor (Estoril Higher Institute for Tourism and Hotel Studies; Centre for Research, Development and Innovation in Tourism – CITUR).