Celebration is an act of memory.

Memory fuels our souls. It gives us deep droughts of joy and even pools of suffering from which we can ponder the reflection of the wounded Christ in our midst. The narratives of our past give us hope and wisdom for surviving the trials of the future. Without memory, we are like tumbleweeds without roots and blown wherever the dry winds blow, only able to produce more parched tangles like ourselves.

There’s a bothersome tendency in today’s cultural conversation to ruin celebration by putting it under a microscope. Facts hold court over intangible truths, and traditions are forced to bow to socio-political fads. You can’t dress this way or eat this way because it’s cultural (mis)appropriation. [Funny, I grew up thinking that imitation was a form of flattery and respect. But I’m told it doesn’t work that way anymore.] Some Protestants with a lingering Puritan suspicion even eschew Christmas because it may have been a pagan day or is now a paganized day or isn’t accurate to when the Christ child probably was born. [I thought Christ came to “make all things new,” but maybe He’s content with leaving some pagan things untouched?] Secularists would tell us that our religious holidays and public expressions of belief are insensitive to non-believers. [Yet, isn’t their suppression of our peaceful joy also insensitive to us? Though, rumor has it that the privileged don’t deserve sensitivity and protection…] And on and on.

But when we’re really honest, the stoics and hedonists can argue all they like in the public sphere; but parents are the masters of ceremony within our homes. We can preserve memory–of a day of birth or a day of Resurrection, for instance–and nourish the roots of our children and ourselves. Perhaps you feel that you don’t have a culture to pass on? Maybe you relate to the tumbleweed? Or maybe you’re in a period of life where celebration seems overwhelming rather than beautiful. I’ve had those moments too.

If you are Christian or Catholic, you do have traditions. You just may not know about them or live them. The liturgical year has a ritual and flow as renewing as the seasons. And even though I’m several generations removed from brave and desperate immigrants to America, there are hints of their traditions in my heart as well.

Traditions are not just accepted; they are also created. I’ve been watching a semi-rootless generation of Catholics begin to create their own ways of marking the ebb and flow of the liturgical year. Jesse Trees and bits of straw in a manger add to the anticipatory wonder of Advent. Thorns in a crown and paper prayer chains give purpose to the monotony of Lent. Resurrection eggs sit aside painted ones in Easter baskets. We’re learning; we’re sharing; and we’re celebrating the stories of the Faith–our stories.

A spirit of celebration anticipates the joys of heaven. And this is something we need to make time for in daily life as well. I too easily get caught up in the “must dos,” and I forget that while a check on a list may be emotionally satisfactory for me, my children need a little more pomp and circumstance when they reach a goal or accomplish a hard task. That celebration may just be a heartfelt moment of eye contact and a hug, but it is important.

I think when a spirit of celebration permeates our family culture, we realize that celebration is more intrinsically linked to gratitude and connection than to commercialism. This morning, I spotted a rare Cedar Waxwing outside my window as I sipped my morning tea. Filled with excitement, I grabbed a camera with a sufficient zoom to capture a picture of the fleeting gift and then double checked my identification with our bird book. Then, as though I was precisely five years old, I flew upstairs to show my husband my discovery. To his credit, he shares my sense of wonder about the natural world and is used to my ecstasies (and troughs), so he responded with enthusiasm and stalked the windows on the back side of the house for the rest of the morning. Celebrations in your home may be about something other than a rare bird sighting, but they are vital to our sense of self and our participation in something much larger than ourselves.

I love the little book written by Maria von Trapp (yes, the singing one) about living the Liturgical Year. She speaks about her family’s traditions and how they nourished their family life and faith during times of uprooting, displacement, and acclimation. She has a wonderful section about the Carnival celebrations before Lent. And while her book is riddled with recipes and more elaborate play acting and formalities, she is sure to mention that celebration can be done simply and still be done well. She encourages, “Let us put these weeks of Carnival to use and learn to dance together, play together, and sing together.”

Simple song, folk dances, and games don’t require expensive resources, incredible skill, or extensive time for leisure. You must merely chose to stop and share time together. I think it speaks volumes about American culture that we can be so obsessed with the Dutch concept of hygge.  The essential elements used to be an American custom as well until we forgot how to spend time with each other outside of commercial entertainment and Pinterest-worthy, structured parties. We are both scared and fascinated by the concept of unstructured time together–time where we may have to figure out what song comes next and lead it with an imperfect voice, we may bumble through a dance unfamiliar to our feet, or where conversation may have lulls and lack the stimulus of show and tell on our phones. In “The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Contentment, Comfort, and Connection,” this culture of calm connection is said to be “a practical way of creating sanctuary in the middle of very real life.” I love that image–sanctuary. And there are days where I feel as though I may need to “claim sanctuary” in the medieval sense as well. We may not be able to brew artisan loose-leaf tea and gather with perfect accord around a hand-carved board game, but perhaps we can trade off jiggling the teething baby and allow a game of Chutes and Laddars before bed, or we can try singing more or dancing a little in the kitchen.

Our homeschool co-op had a wonderful Mardi Gras celebration this past Friday. We all brought a snack or treat to share and Valentine’s notes to exchange, there were colorful beads and masks to help the children take on an aura of sparkle and mystery, and we attempted a giggle-laced rendition of a Virginia Reel. It may not have been the bucolic folk painting above or an elaborate, Cajun masquerade but it was joyful and Catholic and perfect in its own way.

Maybe, if we initiate celebration into our Catholic homes, our children, like the youngest Jewish child at a Seder meal will ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” And we can respond with story–the tale of a God who loves us enough to touch our lives and invite our love in return. And that ‘difference’ will be a well-spring of joy and meaning for them for the rest of their lives.

Nehemiah 8:10

“Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our LORD. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD is your strength!” (NABRE)


Image credit: Martin Driscoll’s “Road Dancing Ireland”