Posted on February 2nd, 2016

The Geography of My Mind – The Artificial Construction of Celebration

At the time of writing it is New Year’s Day. One of the most celebrated holidays in the world, and certainly here in the U.S., it is an object of curiosity to me. Why anyone cares that the calendar flips over is beyond me; it seems we should just as emphatically celebrate February becoming March or Tuesday becoming Wednesday. A holiday for the romantic, aspirational, indulgent and weekend warriors, it is one of those dates protected as a free pass to overindulgence, tomfoolery and revelry. Not that we don’t need those, but I question why we need set occasions to celebrate life. It seems anticlimactic and ironic. For those who detest this holiday amongst other celebratory dates such as Halloween or the 4th of July, it is known as “amateur night.” The night where those who don’t usually cut loose do. It tends to be an overly-priced night of fizzled fanfare, crowding and potential headaches. It’s really all about anticipation and the reconstruction of memory. I doubt many people really truly have that much fun on New Year’s Eve. Do you?

I love live music and bands tend to eat up holidays as an easy way to pull people out of their shell and sell an extra ticket. Because of this, whenever a band I really like comes calling on a holiday, I’ll inevitably be there. The shows are rarely any better than a show played on a random Wednesday in April, and in fact sometimes they’re less enjoyable because even the band buys into the hoopla, tries too hard, and makes a loud flop. But when there isn’t a band nearby that I’d really like to see on holidays like New Year’s Eve, in the past decade or so I’ve just stayed in and treated it as a normal night, the way it should be treated. On those nights I usually go to bed about the same hour as usual (around 11 p.m.), rarely, if ever, staying up to see the dawn of the New Year. Who cares? We have 364 more days of it to come. I’ll get my opportunities. In fact, those may be some of my favorite New Year’s Eves; getting up a little early the next day when it is still quiet out and watching the “walks of shame” stumble home in their Sunday’s best, smeared mascara, puke stains and carrying their shoes. I smile, wave and wish them a Happy New Year.

sad_cakeShe gets it. What are we celebrating now?

The same goes for birthdays. As we get older we typically run from our birthdays, some of us denying that we’re the age we are, dreading the frailty to come and wondering how we made it this far without accomplishing anything. The aspirations of our youth are rarely met: “Johnny, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Johnny: “I want to be an astronaut.” Well, the reality is that Johnny stills lives with his mom at 45 and works the swing shift at 7-11. You think he’s celebrating another birthday? I doubt it. As parents we buy into the material culture and encourage our kids to want things at Christmas (whether or not we’re Christian, and even if we were it swims in the face of what the holiday is supposed to represent) and for their birthdays. We encourage a sense of entitlement. Our culture has swung drastically (and sadly) into rewarding and celebrating every miniscule accomplishment, and a number of failures. Participation trophies anyone?

So when we water down the potential beauty of celebration by applying festive atmospheres to every little thing, it is no wonder our culture is so wrapped up in addiction, instant gratification, disposal and impossible-to-meet desires. We’ve sculpted ourselves into a society that doesn’t value anything because we insincerely “value” everything. This is not to say that there aren’t moments in life truly worth celebrating, or that we shouldn’t take the time to do so properly. All I’m saying is that we should be a little more discriminating about what it is we attach so much “value” to: our current approach to celebration is a little like the boy who cried wolf. When something does come around that is truly worth recognizing for its specialness, we’ll likely miss out on an opportunity to embrace it. We’ve missed the forest for the trees, so to speak.

But it also goes to say that there are moments in life that in theory are worth celebrating that do not need to be celebrated. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, restraint provides perspective. This is why I’ve always found the wedding ceremony to be excessive and counterproductive to its intent. This formal agreement (contract) between two people (or however many you agree upon) is the pinnacle of a romantic gesture. What follows is an overindulgent ceremony “proclaiming” your love to friends and families. To me it is ridiculous. I’ve said this to numerous of my (supposedly) happily married friends, and followed it up with the question: “What is there left to celebrate after this grand gesture that can never be topped?” It seems to me the wedding should come right before one of you dies. Especially with the divorce rate these days, the ceremony has lost value. Add to that that if you’re not religious (re: Judeo-Christian) or a strong proponent of your country’s bureaucracy, you’re really abiding by some archaic structures that are unnecessary. They say if you love someone, let them go. If they come back to you it was meant to be. If not, well, good thing you didn’t get married: you’ve saved yourself $30 grand in rings, ceremony fees and divorce lawyers. Not to mention you didn’t waste your friends and families’ time and money either. If love is between two people (or three, or four), then it is not between those people and God, the city, your family, your neighbors, your co-workers and your friends from college that you’ve only recently started talking to again just so your side of the aisle has as many people as his/hers. Celebrate your love by all means, but do it by yourselves. You don’t need this grand gesture to cement anything. If it needs cement to make it real, it will sink when the flood waters rise.

I don’t know what the next thing will be that I’ll truly celebrate. I’m too cynical, realistic, aware and cautious to embrace anything on that level. Does that mean that I’m missing out on life? It is possible. But a birthday, a graduation, a wedding, a promotion, a raise, these are all just natural progressions in our culture. These are things we’re supposed to do. If we’re supposed to do them, why do we feel the need to reward the moment? I think celebrations shouldn’t be artificially constructed, premeditated or so ubiquitous that everyone experiences them in some form. They should be ephemeral and objects of surprise and wonder. The sun setting on the beach? Celebrate that. Summiting the peak of one of Colorado’s 14ers? Celebrate that. Celebration is a feeling; it is a state, like happiness. Happiness isn’t prescribed and bottled (mush as our medicinal industry complex would have you believe otherwise), it doesn’t come with a formula. Celebration comes from a reaction to an experience that moves you because you couldn’t have imagined how special, and how fleeting, the moment was, is and will be.

Marco Esquandoles
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