Celebrating holydays and non-holydays

April 14, 2006

Daniel and I love to celebrate. We celebrate our first meeting, our first date, our first conjugal embrace, and the date we moved in together. Not having a marriage option we don’t have a wedding anniversary and we don’t celebrate the day we signed our domestic partner papers. I celebrate getting a commission to write a piece of music of score a film. Daniel celebrates gettting commissions to design websites. Then we celebrate when we finish our projects. We love to celebrate.

Celebration often means going out to a restaurant or inviting people over for dinner. We are active entertainers, and love having people over for home-made food and some great wine. When I’m composing something, I invariably corral the guests into my office to hear my latest piece in progress. This is my version of “screening” my work in progress to see what works and what doesn’t, and it continues the warm and fuzzy tradition of 19th century parlor music where all the guests would gather around in the living room while someone plays the piano, or sing songs.

Celebrations are everywhere in society. There is a panoply of holydays celebrated by people of faith around the globe. (My guess is that Catholics have the most holydays.) Each religion and culture has its own way of “celebrating” and rather than try to make a list of them all, I’d rather look at the elements that they have in common. The most prevalent feature of a celebration is a social gathering. The “birds-of-a-feather” phenomenon guarantees that most of the assembled celebrants are of the same faith or political affiliation or country or tax bracket or family, or have important similarities that bind the group together. Social gravity I call it.

Voluntary social gatherings that can be thought of as “celebrations” make up a spectrum–– some examples that spring to mind include a birthday; a memorial for a famous person; remembering the killing of a religious leader; funerals and wakes; going out drinking; a religious service; an anniversary, especially those divisible by 10; a starting again of the calendar; giving awards; getting married; and of course, parties.

The celebration I find the most puzzling is the desire by adults to have huge birthday party celebrations for themselves or each other. I understand children having birthday parties and gifts and cake and festive hats up to age 12, but beyond that, to me, a dinner out with family, a friend or close friends is sufficient. Presents should never be required; we’ve got too much junk already. If you must have a party to celebrate the day you were born, do it on a year divisible by 5 or 10. And if it involves a lot of your good friends and family, consider just getting one really nice (i.e. more costly) present. When I turned 50 (a birthday worth celebrating) my friends chipped in and bought me a REALLY nice espresso machine, one that was too expensive for me to buy myself. That was cool. But coming away with 10 to 30 little presents every year of your life will, I guarantee you, fill your homes with clutter, junk, knick knacks, and other stuff you can’t bare to throw away because so-and-so gave it to you.

I confess to being a complete Scrooge when it comes to Christmas, or as I prefer to call it these days, Xmas. There is very little Christ in the Xmas I see these days. I feel the same way about Xmas as I do about birthdays: every five years would be fine. Now that corporations have taken over Xmas, we have to experience Xmas for 1/4 of the year. Yuk. No thank you. It’s out of control. In a scrooged state, I watched a news show last December that told me that the American economy would utterly collapse if Xmas were to stop. Xmas is as profitable to our economy as war is. It’s wired into our lives now. There is no escaping it.

I am not a person who cares much for tradition. Just because “it’s always been done” is not reason to keep doing it, unless you’re talking about breathing, eating, or behaving in society. I prefer random moments of joy and celebration for things that happen NOW. I don’t need big-business or big-church telling me what and when to celebrate and what I must buy.

By now you’re thinking: jeez, what a grouch. Let me explain: briefly, I look in my house, in my garage, in the basement, in all my rooms and closets, and storage areas, and there is too much STUFF. And most of them are from birthdays and Xmas presents. OK, not all of it: I have been a hopeless materialist who loves to collect and hold onto stuff. So, I see what a product I am of this materialistic society. How did I get like this?

So, for the rest of my life, I’m going to start giving stuff away to friends and students (let it clutter up THEIR homes!). No more presents except dinners out, and a few for my 60th 70th, 80th… birthdays.

“Come over this Friday for dinner.” “Let’s go skiing.” “Let’s go to mass.” “Wanna go shopping?” “Up for drinks?” “Let’s go dancing this weekend!” “Up for some nooky tonight?” “Honey, I bought you this because I saw it, I thought of you, and I made me appreciate how much I love you.” These are the holydays, or more precisely, non-holydays I celebrate. I’m not telling the world to follow suit, this is just something I’ve had to do for myself.

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