When I was a child there was a game called musical chairs that was often played at birthday parties. Enough chairs minus one, to represent the number of children present were placed in one or two rows and as a tune was played on the phonograph, participants marched or scurried around them. When the music stopped you had to find a seat. One chair was removed each time until by the end the winner was the person who sat in the remaining chair. I disliked the game intensely. I wasn’t an aggressive child and often lost out early. I hope it has fallen out of fashion. We never played it when my children were growing up.
When the games are enjoyable, birthday parties can be lots of fun. Our country is about to celebrate another birthday and so is my husband Stephen. His mother didn’t quite make it to the 4th so his is the 3rd. We always have a party and invite friends to come share in our celebration. In addition we usually take the entire week off. We avoid housework except for what is truly necessary like laundry, cooking and shopping. We also take the week as a time to get away from ongoing writing projects and seek out things to do for fun. Occasionally we go to movies or interesting restaurants, sometimes we revisit places we’ve lived and take a walk together down memory lane;.
The birthday of our country is a grand occasion throughout the United States, with concerts, fireworks, and gatherings as well as parades. I lived once in a town that had a big parade every 4th and every year to my family’s delight it marched down our street and past our door. We were able to sit on our front lawn in folding chairs and watch the marchers, the bands and the floats pass by. Later in the day that same town also later held games and races for the children, and there would often be a carnival to enliven the festivities as well.
Called Independence Day, the birthday of the USA was first celebrated on July 4 1777 in Philadelphia with bells, bonfires and fireworks. The glorious 4th is also an occasion for political speeches and posturing as various politicians seek to gather votes and voters with an eye to the elections in the fall. Orations by Daniel Webster, john Quincy Adams and many others throughout our history have enlivened the day. I can remember picnics by the beach and local politicians enlivening the air with their promises and/or excuses.
Celebrating birthdays whether one’s own or that of someone else is fun. It’s important to mark the milestones in one’s life with special emphasis. The older we get, the longer we live and the greater the achievement in doing so. However if I don’t take care of myself on the way to my milestones, once they have accumulated I may regret it if my health has deteriorated. It’s important that Stephen and I get enough exercise, eat foods that are healthy and nourishing, and make sure we have enough sleep. That way we really have something to celebrate every year when our birthdays come around.
When I was a young child Easter was an exciting time. I got to wear new clothes and a big straw hat. I remember one with a pretty grosgrain ribbon around it. The ribbon hung down in the back and in my memory it is blue. At Christmas and Easter we attended my father’s church as well as my mother’s. I liked his best. Not only did they sing hymns but also at Easter geraniums lined the church driveway for children like me to take home after the service. Then we would go to a relative’s for lunch and there would be candy after dessert. My mother did not approve of candy so we seldom had it at home unless someone brought it. That was my Easter celebration.
Easter and spring are synonymous. From time immemorial people have found ways to celebrate the coming of the warmer, lighter days and the passing of the dark, cold ones. When primitive cultures worshipped personalities that embodied seasons, they honored their gods and goddesses of spring, summer, fall and winter. Celebrations throughout the world centering on spring, especially in cold climates, had much in common with today’s Christian Easter.
The rising of Christ from the dead ends the period of self-deprivation or fasting known as Lent. The rebirth of the garden and the growth of new life is echoed in the Christian Easter observance. In the days before refrigeration and supermarkets, because the garden and the fields were bare and brown Lent was observed willy-nilly. In the cold climates all there was to eat were stored, dried vegetables, roots and grains. Nothing green was available. The growth of the first plants was something to be hailed as individuals foraged and found fresh vegetable matter to eat after the long winter months.
There was great cause to rejoice in the coming of the longer light and the warmer days. Different cultures evolved their own observances centering around their own deities and beliefs. Many of these customs have come down to us and are part of our observances today. The ways we celebrate our Easter, similar to our Christmas celebrations have become a conglomeration of the various cultures from which we derive our present day civilization. However they are all a reflection of the original reasons to celebrate: the coming of a time of growth and renewal after a period of hardship and sacrifice.
These customs all contain the affirmation that growth and change will proceed uninterrupted, and that the ultimate harvest will be a good one. The bunny that brings the Easer basket is Germanic in origin, a favorite of the goddess of spring. The symbolic eggs too come from there, as well as from other places representing symbols of new life. When you buy marshmallow Peeps or chocolate eggs, you echo the innocence of that beginning. The purchase of new clothes too is symbolic as is the Easter feast common to most families. What seems meaningful is not how we celebrate but that as from time immemorial we acknowledge the wonderful coming of warmer weather and brighter days for all.
Celebrations are the bright blessings of our lives
My children loved me to read to them. One of their favorites was an entrancing book by Charlotte Zolotow, charmingly illustrated by Garth Williams. Called Over and Over, it was about days to celebrate. Throughout the book the preschool child asked “What comes next?”, and the mother would reply, sequencing the round of holiday celebrations that stretched through the year from the child’s current birthday around to her next one.
Holidays, originally holy days, were organized around the changing of the seasons, planting and harvest and the worship of the various deities involved. Some, like Christmas and Easter are still part of our culture, while others like Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day have become important traditions that we enjoy, participate in and share with friends and family. As we take part in holidays they add a special meaning to our lives and refresh our spirits.
Holidays bring families together. They also provide advertising revenue for the media and commercial potential for merchants. “What comes next” can be easily seen in the stores as green shamrocks and Easter bunnies jostle each other for space on the shelves of department and drug stores and supermarkets. Many protest the commercialization of holidays, yet the decorations do alert us to the eternal round of celebration that comes with the twelve months of the year.
We have within us always the child who delights in holidays. These are important to our need for celebrations. They are vital times of relief from the stress and tension of business and daily life. In the cold and dark days of winter especially, Christmas and Valentine’s day take on even greater significance because of the joy and happiness they bring. Like bright threads woven into a dark tapestry where bleakness predominates, they highlight and fulfill our yearning for joy.
May Your holidays bring you brightness when you need it most.