Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Why celebrate?

What’s the difference between a celebration and a festival? A tradition and a ritual? Why do we crave them? In the next 26 days, I’m looking at celebrations. We want them. We need them. What else have we got to look forward to?

It’s humanity’s need to create order out of chaos, and to create meaning where there is none. We are compelled to set markers, to check the passing of time, to look forward to what’s coming in our near or extended future. With traditions that have intervals, we can compare our growth from point to point and have a reference for tracking our and others’ lives.

Before Hallmark and other religious/secular holiday calendars, the main method of marking time was to follow the path of the moon and stars, tracking seasons and agricultural growth periods. (Monkeyrotica’s sidebar: did you know that ancient man used to think that the moon caused pregnancy? Women’s menstrual cycles coincide with lunar cycles, so why the hell not?) Humans celebrated when the first blooms appeared on trees to show the advent of spring (vernal equinox) and again when it was time to harvest (autumnal equinox). Just when we think we can’t take the long, hot, days of summer and the short, dark days of winter we look forward to the solstices, which are the shortest and longest days of the year.

We celebrate with a prom or debutante ball to mark when young men and women in our community have come of age and are ready to enter society as adults. Marriage ceremonies are elaborate rituals celebrating couples who take vows of commitment, proclaim adherence to laws, and join their two families as a greater whole. Funeral customs honor, remember, and celebrate the lives of the dead and bring together loved ones to reflect on their own lives.

Without tradition, ceremonies, rituals, and festivals, there would be nothing to break the monotony of life. We need something to do while we are waiting to die, you know?

This week, I'm planning to focus on harvest festivals, as they are peculiar to this season and we'll actually hit a few specific ones during NaBloPoMo. Tomorrow, a harvest festival that's recently passed in 2008: China's Moon Festival.

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