In the sacred city of Bubastis on the delta of the Nile River, hundreds of thousands of ancient Egyptians gathered once a year to celebrate their cat-head goddess. The Greek historian Herodotus describes their festive gathering in these words: "They go by river, men and women together, a great number of each in every boat. Some of the women make a noise with rattles, others play flutes all the way, while the rest of the women and the men sing and clap their hands. . . . But when they have reached Bubastis, they make a festival with great sacrifices, and more wine is drunk at this feast than in the whole year beside." Those folks knew how to party!
The word for "festive gathering" in Herodotus was panegyris (pan A guh riss). It was also used to describe the national Greek festival at Olympia, where they had athletic contests, feasting, dancing, drama, and glorious oratory. In broader usage, the word meant " a place where people go and enjoy themselves."
God is not opposed to festive occasions, but there was a time in Israel when He said He would put a stop to their religious celebrations because the people had corrupted them with idolatry (Hosea 5:21; Amos 9:5). Then fifty years later God made a happy announcement through Isaiah. In the coming messianic age, He planned for people to "rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her" (Isaiah 66:10). Another hundred years passed and God promised through another prophet that in the New Jerusalem people would celebrate "the festivals and the appointed feasts" (Ezekiel 46:11). In these four passages the Greek translation of the O.T. used forms of the world panegyris.
In the New Testament panegyris is found only once. It is the "joyful assembly" of Hebrews 12:22. (Let the Egyptians or the Greeks try to match this panegyris!) Christians have come "to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God . . . to thousands of angels in panegyris." Now these are the folks who really know how to party!