Source Book for Sociology

Author: Kimball Young  | Date: 1934

100. Community Aspects of Recreation16

Recreational activities have long been associated with the family, the play group, the neighborhood, and the congeniality group, and in more complex societies also with economic, religious, or political secondary groups. In addition to these expressions of play within these narrower groups, the community itself, representing the combination of major interests of the inhabitants, has also been the focal point about which certain forms of play and leisure-time activities have revolved.

In classical times gala days or community festivals were exceedingly frequent. In fact the drama itself probably arose out of community festive occasions as Jane Harrison’s Ancient Art and Ritual (1913) and as Gilbert Murray’s A History of Ancient Greek Literature (1897) have pointed out. These community festivals were often associated with religious rituals that had their origin in practical affairs such as planting, harvesting crops, or community activities concerned with war and peace. Certainly throughout the history of Greece and Rome such festival days of one sort or another were common. These centered around sports such as the Olympic games of Greece and the gladiatorial games of Rome. Others revolved around religious and political activities.

With the coming to power of the Christian church there was a distinct tendency to suppress these pagan holidays and to substitute Christian holydays. In fact, many of the Christian holidays are but rebaptized pagan festivals to which Christian characters and ideas are added. Such are Christmas, Easter, and other days.

During the Middle Ages, when the church controlled the community life at nearly every point, these religious days served as valuable foci for common activity of the members of the community. The various special days for worship (aside from Sundays) and the pilgrimages to religious shrines doubtless combined religious and recreational features. But the religious motivation was not the only one. Out of the social and economic life of the serfs, peasants, and city laborers came many festivals which may not have had any special magical or religious significance. This sort of expression has been rather common for centuries in our Western society and is found elsewhere in other societies as well. Dorothy G. Spicer thus characterizes the festival:

"From country to country the festal theme has been variously interpreted according to the distinctive characteristics of the land. Everywhere, however, its same essential aspect has been retained. The solstices, the equinoxes, planting of seed and ingathering of crops have become 301 festive occasions observed through ritualistic dance, procession and song. . . .

"The drama, art and music of the peasant folk embody those fundamental impulses, conflicts and emotions of human nature which are the basic elements of all great artistic production. The folk festival is the simplest and the most democratic of all forms of dramatic expression. It presents the unification of pantomime, dance and song, of color, rhythm and sound, through a common theme of deep emotional or religious significance. The folk festival includes all phases of peasant art. It affords the greatest flexibility in subject and variety in interpretation to the foreign community worker seeking to preserve the picturesque customs, folklore and music of other lands. . . ."17

Often these festivals were purely local. In time they became common to wider regions and nations. In any case they represent well-accepted culture patterns of recreation. After the Reformation the heavy taboo of Protestantism was felt in many quarters. Protestantism was fundamentally hostile to all festive manifestations. Play and recreation not only were ungodly and pagan, but they were eventually considered economically unsound because they diverted people from the more serious business of earning a living. Yet the commercial interests involved in these festive observances operated to preserve them from complete suppression, and as the influences of Protestantism relaxed in the modern world, there has been a rebirth of festivals, carnivals, fairs, and like activities under the aegis of private capitalism. And in spite of the commercialization of these gala days, as seen in the county fair, in the circus, the amusement park, the traveling carnivals, and the like, they still serve a community function by providing play and leisure-time activity.

In our own day, in fact, commercial interests have actually stimulated the observance of certain special days. Christmas shopping habits are greatly affected by advertising, and Mother’s Day seems to have been promoted by merchant classes with an eye to increased sales of flowers and gifts. Likewise the more obvious development of Apple Days in apple-producing communities, of Orange Carnivals in California or Florida, and of Dairy Days in dairy states all indicate an effort to capitalize on the latent community interest in festive occasions.

Commercial classes have also fostered community spirit and a sense of solidarity by the "booster" and "bigger town" movements. In order to arouse interest, these classes have linked their campaigns with recreational as well as educational and other noneconomic fields of behavior.


Finally, in our own time, the patriotic days in every state and nation represent important recreational occasions as well as periods for the intense stimulation of faith in one’s country by singing, speaking, and dramatic presentation of events in the history of the nation.

It is thus apparent that play and recreation, in Western society at least, have been linked successfully with religious interests, with nationalistic sentiments, and with commercial and economic activities. Since play is so attractive, since it involves such pleasant and powerful emotions, since its expression touches the deeper levels of man’s biological nature, its association or cultural cohesion with these non-recreational purposes enhances the appeal of the latter. In this sense play and leisure-time activities may become and now are some of the most important loci for community solidarity and for the integration of varying interests into a common unity.

Whenever commercial recreational devices can link themselves up with these wider community interests, their economic success is likely to be insured. By the same token, the development of public recreational programs along noneconomic lines may also serve the purpose of increasing community morale and hence improving the lives of the members of the community. Most students of the problem of leisure time and recreation, in fact, favor the continued extension of these public and nonprofit forms of recreation because they feel that they can develop those forms of play, amusements, and sports which will, in the end, best serve the purposes of community good feeling, welfare, and moral solidarity. (See Selection 102, pp. 304–10.)

16 Selection prepared by Kimball Young, with appropriate quotations.

17 From Dorothy Gladys Spicer, Folk Festivals and the Foreign Community, 1923, pp. 2, 9. Used by permission of the National Board of the Young Women’s Christian Associations of the United States of America.


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Chicago: Kimball Young, "100. Community Aspects of Recreation," Source Book for Sociology in Source Book for Sociology, ed. Kimball Young (Cincinnati: American Book Company, 1935), Original Sources, accessed July 17, 2024,

MLA: Young, Kimball. "100. Community Aspects of Recreation." Source Book for Sociology, in Source Book for Sociology, edited by Kimball Young, Cincinnati, American Book Company, 1935, Original Sources. 17 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Young, K, '100. Community Aspects of Recreation' in Source Book for Sociology. cited in 1935, Source Book for Sociology, ed. , American Book Company, Cincinnati. Original Sources, retrieved 17 July 2024, from