Celebration is when we let joy make itself out of our love. ~ Thomas Merton
It’s that time of year; it’s that lovely point in the wheel’s spin when longing and hope comingle and form the solvent that cleanses winter’s dreary weariness. Our stories begin to focus on illumination and viriditas, the sacred upsurging greenness of co-creation and new life…
The energetic excitement of the Christmas gatherings and partings seems to spin gradually away from the holiday festivities, shooting out random sparks and then quietly fizzling away into the gray days and weeks of the long and anti-climactic month of January, which is largely characterized by some form of moisture and some shade of nothing. (Though that’s really not fair, I suppose, to the many combinations of black, white and gray offered up by the January world, since they’re such lovely backdrops for cardinals, blue jays, and finches.) Still, “drab” is almost too exciting a word for January.
And, for a few weeks, I appreciate the post-holiday serenity that leads my spirit back into balance. My walking and meditation practices, my writing, my regular communications with friends and loved ones, even my Masterpiece Theater dates, are all restored to their dependable routines.
But then the month closes and it’s time to bring up another box from the basement storage shelves. [Insert close friends’ and family’s laughter.]
The boxes—organized, labeled, and ever-ready to be hauled upstairs and lovingly arranged—contain holiday and season-related decorations I’ve collected and created over the years.
This week marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and is connected to celebrations of Imbolc, Beira, Calleich/Brighde, Candlemas, and Groundhog’s Day. Roman Catholics designated this time for honoring Mary’s purification following her son’s birth and the presentation of the Christ in the temple…and, of course, St. Valentine’s Day’s festivities and gifting bless the month of February. (Any celebration that translates love through chocolate is highly regarded in my book).
It’s a joyful time of year for celebrating light, hearth/home, fertility, transition, and rebirth: our stories evolve, but our human yearnings cycle reliably and tenderly. For me (Gaelic Girl to the core), the inclination and invitation have always been to name and celebrate wherever we are on the wheel.
Academics will argue whose version of a given story is authentic, or whether it’s been appropriated from its source, or become reductive, or recombined into a completely altered format, but I don’t concern myself with dissecting and arguing such points: instead, I enjoy reflecting upon the deeper themes revealed by our stories and recognizing their universality.
Stories were first shared by word of mouth; they naturally evolved to reflect the subjectivities of storyteller and audience. I love the “braided” aspect of every story I hear, and am enchanted when I trace similar stories through different times and places, imagining the long chain of roving storytellers intertwining, carrying, and sharing their precious cargoes of metaphor, myth, symbol, and meaning. And I’m overjoyed when I discover that two tribes of people summoned similar frameworks and cause-effect relationships, but created unique characters for describing some aspect of the natural world or human condition. Whether Caillech is witnessed gathering firewood or the groundhog sees his shadow, we’ll have a longer winter…
No visitor to Full Moon Cottage will leave without the invitation to celebrate the current season, which I extend to include monthly anniversaries of just about everything. (Why not? I have an official “June birthday anniversary,” but why not celebrate on the 17th of every month? And, of course, it’s the same with the anniversaries of meeting and marrying Phillip, and enjoying a monthly Christmas on every 25th…) How much fun is it to wish someone, “Happy October Birthday!” and “Merry May Christmas!” Why not? For goodness’ sake, life is brief and the point is that it’s all worth sharing and celebrating.
I inherited this orientation from my parents. My mother loved to routinely set out a few decorations, make festive meals and desserts, celebrate achievements and anniversaries, and look for the “adventure” in the commonplace. And my father made up silly songs for no reason but to delight us and recognize the blessedness of the ordinary; I do that, too.
Phillip would maybe say I’ve taken it up a notch. Or two. Morning Parties, Breakfast Songs, 7 PM Popcorn Parties, Bedtime Songs and Parties…the 4-leggeds love these and hunt me down with barks/meows if I’m delayed in initiating our celebrations at expected times. (I am very well and happily-trained.)
And then there are the boxes.
Friends love to tease me and ask, “Have you brought up your ‘2 PM Sunday Box’…or your ‘Tooth-Brushing Box?’” (Such Molierian wits!) While I don’t celebrate life’s minutiae quite that intensely, yes; I’ve brought up and distributed the “February decorations” around the house and celebrations are in full swing. If none exist, I make up rituals to mark special days. For example, this week was a great time to light candles, smudge the hearth, bake bannocks, feel and express gratitude for the warmth and sunlight, and take time to savor the gardening catalogues that have been filling up the mailbox lately.
Noticing and honoring the uniqueness of the daily round has taught me that we need to love our days—all of them and each of them—for their distinctness and blessedness, despite our cultural messages to “get through” them “endure” them till we can go shopping or overeat/drink our way through another week’s end. If we let them blur together and “can’t wait” for them to pass, we miss so many holy messages and invitations that are offered for our enrichment and that help us finally accrue days threaded with light, lives infused with acknowledged meaning, and stories that outlive us.
On Valentine’s Day in 1987 I came home from work to learn that my father had suffered the massive stroke that would alter the course of his story, the story of my parents’ marriage, and certainly our family story. 18 years later, on February 4, my mother changed worlds here at Full Moon Cottage in a small basement bedroom Phillip and my brother, Mike, had put together and painted in 2 days, like some hurried stage carpenters (wainscoting, photographs, a lamp, 2 beds, a rocker), for her final comfort and peace. She was taking her last breaths while a huge crane was placing the 30-ft. beam in the addition to Full Moon that we’d envisioned as her new home.
Such days are also marked as holy, as are all of our losses and the moments of deepening that contribute to our stories of healing and transformation.
When I worked as a hospital chaplain I elicited and recorded patients’ stories of healing. It was valuable—both for my patients and for me—to hear what healing meant to them and how they defined it, for we often cannot begin to heal without reflecting upon and sharing these stories. And we can heal all the way through our dying.
I came to know a patient who had CHF (congestive heart failure), which is a disease that progressively disables our bodies, and so she returned often to the hospital, and we discovered we were kindred spirits, delighting in each other’s company. She was a charming woman, who used her sweetness and humor to deflect introspection, but the awareness that her life was ending brought increasingly deeper excavations of her truths, and one day, when she was 92 and coming to accept her dying, she honored me by sharing this story about the greatest healing of her life:
What would healing look like for me? I suppose for me it would be a return to optimum health…and if that is a lower level of health than I had when I arrived at the hospital, then healing would mean acceptance. (Long pause.) The most illuminating healing of my life happened after my husband’s death. The hardest time of my life by far…it took years, although it was the first year that was completely black; it was the heaviest, darkest, most silent year of my life…but it wasn’t until five years after he’d died, when I was 61, and traveled to London with a friend, that the sorrow palpably lifted. I remember the very moment: we were in Piccadilly Square, shopping and having a grand time, and I pushed through the door of a shop and came out onto the street: there was bustling and life and people and color and activity everywhere…and just like that: I said, “I am happy. I want to live again.” Just like that. Healing can happen like that. Grace.
I agree. Healing can happen just like that, or sometimes only after long years of re-planting our spirits and regaining our balance, but there’s always a time we can pause, look back, and see that healing has and is happening.
I know that is so as I set out trinkets and mementos that honor and celebrate the great loves of my life and the stories we’ve shared.
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7 thoughts on “The Impulse to Celebrate”
Yummy…The bannocks sound really good for a chilly morning…Great article Catherine. Thanks…..
You’re welcome and thank you for your sweet comments and support, VK!
Now I’m rethinking my grumpiness on putting away all the Christmas decorations and the work and time it took. Maybe I need to start having little celebrations more often . . . hmmm.
Go for it and let me know the results!
I would love to hear more of your occupation as a chaplain. That is a subject that interest me very much. But I thoroughly enjoyed your thoughts on healing. It is a wonderful thing. It seems so far off, when we need it But then it often comes suddenly, without warning. And I enjoyed reading your views on celebration. According to our tradition (Jewish), a particular day… even if it is a great holiday, doesn’t really come into being, until we sanctify it. And I think this connects to what you’ve said at the beginning of this post. One has to invest the holiness into the day, even if it is at the right time of the year.
Yes, I believe that’s one of the great gifts of ritual: that we pull the camera back a bit, gather together and “agree” through traditional patterns of movement, words, song, etc., that “this day and place are holy.” I love your way of putting it: “[the day] doesn’t really come into being, until we sanctify it.” I think this can be done alone and in community.
This is a great post, Catherine- Happy New Year!