Among the joys of human existence is our propensity for celebration. Across culture and time, people have developed rituals to commemorate occasions both pedestrian and sacred.
I think of the line from A Christmas Carol, uttered by our favorite Ebenezer Scrooge: “That Christmas was a humbug – a waste of time and money. A false and commercial festival, devoutly to be ignored.” To this, his nephew rebutted, “[T]hough it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!” Here, Fred, the nephew, encapsulates the reason for human celebration.
In childhood, the interaction with adults, who go about seemingly important and incomprehensible work and promise that the tots will “understand when they’re older”, creates the impression (or, at least, it did for me) that adulthood is a mystical and alien territory, the provenance of fulfillment and knowledge. The truth is that, though theoretically one does develop in maturity and understanding to accomplish goals not reachable in childhood and to refine one’s reasoning skills, passing from 17 to 18 doesn’t automatically imbue life with a magical vigor. What becomes of life post-childhood (and even during childhood, to an extent) is highly dependent on the choices that an individual makes, among them the choice to celebrate.
Celebration is a recognition of worth in life. It acknowledges that in this mess that is Earth, in this world where hunger and food waste co-exist, a nation tries to wipe out an entire people group, believers face death for daring to profess faith, and the existence of meaning itself is questioned, there is goodness, beauty, and truth to be saluted. Even self-identified nihilists celebrate, disbelieving though they are in the meaninglessness in everything, because the insignificance of one’s existence, according to one high schooler, entails freedom.
The previous post dealt with the importance of physical touch for human development and well-being. It is essential for a person to grow. For those in technology-driven societies, celebration helps a person to slow.
In 2018, humans generated 2.5 quintillion bytes of data in a single day. Given the rapid development of technology, it is not unlikely that the current statistic is even higher. Technological advances in the 20th century and the 2010s have conditioned Westerners to expect a certain speed in task execution and result delivery. In the United States, the self-driven innovation that emboldened the founding fathers to dare conceive of a new, constitutional government and that strengthened immigrants in their resolve to succeed in the Land of Opportunity by little more than the sweat of their brow has fueled a workaholic culture that demands constant activity and constant output at the expense of health and family.
I, a high achiever who tends to fill free time with work rather than bask in it, am guilty of buying into this scheme. The result: Accomplishments are skimmed over. There is no delight in completion, only anticipation of “what’s next?”
A commitment to celebration compels the scurrier to pause, to contemplate and enjoy the good. To be sure, celebration can be overdone – one might even say abused – like any good object in life. The abuse of a thing, however, does not invalidate the thing itself. Absent celebration, our individual histories are but a series of events, one following the other without discernible milestones. The world is reduced to the mechanical. To celebrate is to affirm existence beyond the mechanical.
Regular and deliberate celebration fosters an attitude of gratitude; in his popular Celebration of Discipline, Society of Friends theologian Richard J. Foster views celebration as a corporate discipline. Dr. Chris Johnstone, a psychologist specializing in resilience and well-being, explains:
“I’m just thinking about how important food is. Without food, we wither away. Food is nourishment. We also have needs for psychological nourishment or psycho-spiritual nourishment, emotional nourishment. I see celebration as one of those things that nourishes us psychologically, emotionally, spiritually.Dr. Chris Johnstone, to Resilience
On food: The inspiration for this post was that today, February 24, is National Tortilla Chip Day. The sheer number of random food holidays observed by different folks around the world baffles me. In February we’ve had a Dark Chocolate Day (1; my favor type of chocolate), a Tater Tot Day (2; my younger brother’s favorite preparation of potato), Carrot Cake Day (3; my older brother’s favorite flavor of cake), a Homemade Soup Day (4; lentil is my go-to), a Bubble Gum Day (5), a National Frozen Yogurt Day (6), and a Fettuccine Alfredo Day (7) – and that’s just the first week.
Scrolling through these numerous food holidays, I wondered, “Why do people even bother enshrining these days? What’s the point?” Later, as I struggled to decipher a problem in my real analysis homework, I considered the community aspect of those holidays; food is a vehicle for communication between friends and family as well as across cultures. Food holidays are a means of celebration through community gathered around food. They are participation in both sides of Dr. Johnstone’s nourishment. They are an opportunity to stop and savor.
Today or tomorrow or this weekend, try taking a moment – just a few minutes, even – to celebrate.