Years ago, when I was studying in Rome, I befriended a Latin American girl who had gone to Italy to study philosophy. I loved reflecting with her on the meaning of things. I remember that we once had a wonderful discussion about the anthropological value of celebration, the main topic of a course she was taking.
The course focused on the “celebration” that life is, and my friend said: “The days and moments of celebration must break up our routines, taking us into a different dimension from our daily life for a while. We need both an everyday life (otherwise we would not appreciate the “party”), as well as days that break up the monotony (otherwise we would be alienated from everyday life).”
Not all moments are equal
Even without having taken philosophy seminars, we would probably agree that there are special occasions that should be celebrated. It's not the same whether we celebrate or not... it's nice to stop and give thanks for something, remember a happy time, and appreciate all that we have, most importantly our relationships.
However, celebrations only happen in communion with others. One cannot “celebrate alone.” You can rejoice inwardly, but if you are not with someone else, a party doesn’t happen.
What does this say about a family?
We have already spoken about the importance of creating shared moments with our families throughout the day, explaining why it is important, for example, to keep geniality alive... Now we would like to focus on the importance of knowing how to celebrate special occasions.
Sharing is the soul of the party
I remember a very sad picture that was floating around social media some time ago, of a woman blowing out some birthday cake candles by herself.
Behind her, on the couch, you could see a man – probably her husband – looking at something on his cell phone. The children were doing something else—maybe playing video games. Anyone looking at the picture could imagine that the photo had been taken using the self-timer feature.
There were “funny memes” created using this picture (the situation, unfortunately, lent itself to jokes because it was so surreal: we all realize that “celebrating alone is not celebrating”). Yet, honestly, I think there is very little to laugh about.
Behind this lack of care on a day that should be celebrated lies the tragic reality of a disjointed family—of a family struggling to “live together.”
I saw this photo just before the Coronavirus crisis began, and it made such an impression on me with the lockdown then limiting our ability to come together (which cost us so much), but the bigger problem remains emotional distance between people.
Even in the midst of the Covid lockdowns we saw people toasting via Skype at Christmas, popping champagne virtually for graduation celebrations, dancing together on New Year's Eve via a screen. The desire to be with one another nearly overcame physical impediments with the help of technology. But if the desire isn’t there, there is no point in being in the same room...
“It is important to be able to emphasize what is special”
A few months ago, a friend told me enthusiastically that she had read some beautiful works by Mariolina Ceriotti Migliarese, a child neuropsychiatrist and psychotherapist from Milan, Italy, who practices as a psychotherapist for adults and couples and is involved in parent and teacher training. She suggested I read the book The imperfect family. How to turn worries and problems into exciting challenges ( La famiglia imperfetta. Come trasformare ansie e problemi in sfide appassionanti, Ares, 2010) in which, among other things, she talks about the value of celebrating with our families.
The book argues that knowing how to celebrate together makes relationships stronger: celebrating the other family members serves as a reminder of just how important they are, how much their presence matters to us. It strengthens bonds.
And there are so many occasions that we can find to celebrate together: Mother's Day, Father's Day, birthdays, patron saints’ feast days, school graduations, and even Sunday dinner. Ceriotti Migliarese suggests giving value to the special traditions that each family builds over time around particular anniversaries and finally adds that it is also important not to keep children from attending funerals of loved ones, since denying death doesn’t help one to work through their fears about it.
Giving space for one another’s value and life’s value
The message that the psychotherapist conveys – and that I intend to share with you – can be summed up in this line from her book: “There is a culture that is linked to the ability to celebrate and the ability to distinguish everyday moments from special moments—a culture that recognizes differences and celebrates them. It is important to become able to emphasize what is special, because this highlights its value.”
You don't need big things to celebrate, I might add. You don't need to spend a fortune on an anniversary or birthday. The essential ingredient is simply the desire to celebrate life together.