Along with the evolution of our culture, comes the evolution of how ... and when ... we celebrate. And whether or not it is considered 'appropriate' to celebrate.
Every day I hear phrases spoken that suggest to me that someone has reached a time in their lives where celebration is very appropriate. So many milestones reached, achievements met, life improvements accomplished go without acknowledgement.
"It was such a life-changing moment."
"This is the most cherished time of my life."
"I couldn't have achieved this without their help."
"I needed a way to say 'good-bye'."
"My life is changing so much; nothing feels the same."
"My life goals are different now;
but how do I start reaching them?"
"Who would have thought we'd be together this long?"
In our 'modern' culture, we tend to think that time-honoured celebrations are the only occasions when we should celebrate - events such as birthdays, weddings, anniversaries seem to be the only occasions worthy of a 'fuss'. Yet, there cultures around the globe that may seem less sophisticated in some ways to our 'western' perceptions (though they are often more spiritual and wiser) where celebrations happen for many reasons that are not obvious achievements --- often related to the quality of how people live their values and learn life lessons.
Many years ago I read about a tribe in Australia that had made the decision to soon end its existence by no longer procreating - not uncommon amongst indigenous people who believe their time on earth has completed. The chief of that tribe explained that they do not celebrate annual birthdays, which they saw as insignificant and couldn't understand why we, in the West, celebrate simply getting older, something that we have absolutely no control over in any way. Instead they celebrated a person in the tribe whenever they had 'grown spiritually' or 'achieved a special awareness/knowledge', or 'improved a negative behaviour'. The quote at the top of this blog post reminds me of that philosophy ... that when we celebrate our lessons and growth in life, we remember them and we remain inspired to keep going on the right path. Simple. Lovely. Worthy of a fuss.
Births, Marriages and Deaths are such significant events in any family or culture. With the sense of community more of an exception rather than the norm in many western cultures today, ceremony and celebration become even more essential in marking history.
For me, creating ritual, celebrating 'getting better' at life, and telling our life stories has grown to become one of the most essential acts we can contribute to the future. Our individual chapters of life may not be preserved in the same pristine chambers as major historical documents, but they are equally as essential to the future, because once our individual stories die out with no evidence left behind --- that is when we are forgotten. And that is when those who come after us miss the gift of our place in time.
I sometimes wonder if many of us believe that anything we celebrate must be done so with, and through, tradition. Actually, we are completely free to create any ritual or celebration that brings meaning to us. We are free to create any celebration that empowers us to journey through life's experiences ... that speaks to our hearts not through a religion or a custom or through the expectation of our friends and families.
Too many times I have had people tell me that they wish they had celebrated a particular life achievement in a meaningful way, but that they thought their friends or family might think it was silly or ridiculous to do so (translate that as 'it isn't how WE do things'). What a shame to be governed so acutely by the limited courage of others.
More often than not when people learn I am a Celebrant, I am taken aside and quietly asked if I might help them create a ceremony for what they perceive to be 'unusual' reasons ... a ceremony to celebrate their remission from a life-threatening illness, an end-of-life ceremony for their elderly or dying pet, a ceremony to honour a finished relationship or a divorce, a ceremony to help them manifest one of their hopes in life, a ceremony to officially acknowledge their growing children (where a baptism or baby naming did not meet their needs), a ceremony to welcome their adopted children to their family, a ceremony to mark their teenage child's rite of passage, a ceremony to mark successful freedom from an addiction ...
Celebration is simply the intention to honour our life experiences. It is an act of acknowledging our commitment to another person.
It is permission to grieve the illness or the death of a loved one.
It is honouring the time when we pass through a particularly challenging or arduous life experience, and come out the other side better, wiser.
Celebration is simply recognising the wonderful rite of passage when a young person moves into puberty or acknowledging our gratitude for the birth of a child.
It is creating a safe platform for acknowledging the need for forgiveness in a relationship that is or was.
It is the release of harboured resentment or anger, fear or low confidence that is no longer wanted.
Celebration is welcoming a new era in life, a new decade of wisdom. It is honouring how a particular life experience served us, but is no longer needed, so it must be released.
Celebration is simply giving 'wings' to our life stories, so they can serve us when necessary, and so we can let them go, when no longer needed.
Ceremony is the catalyst to unite people, to bring people together for a common celebration, a celebration that most often inspires the right change at the right time. Ceremony is that simple structure, that beautiful 'order' that brings a sense of fulfilment, a taste of knowing that an important passage has been reached and must be honoured before you move on in life.
There are no 'wrong ways' to create Celebration and Ceremony. But there is a 'right way' - and that is what is dictated by your heart and your intuition. Your mind is welcome to come along for the celebration, but it is your heart that is the guest of honour.
However you refer to it - ritual, commemoration, rite, formality, dedication, communion, initiation, blessing, consecration ... it is my hope that you give yourself permission to celebrate the complexities and the beautiful outcomes of life's experiences.