The Sunday before Valentine’s day, I was doing my usual Sunday afternoon thing–staring at the wall, trying to recover from preaching (which sometimes feels precisely like recovering from a bear-chase situation). As I mindlessly scrolled through Facebook, I noticed a trend. Several consecutive pics in my newsfeed of friends displaying the Valentine cards, treats, and mail boxes they were making with their kids. After scrolling through approximately 800 of these, I got nervous.
“Hey,” I said to my spouse…”Does H- have a Valentine party this week?”
“Well, did we get a newsletter this month?” Even as I said it, I knew the answer. We probably did, and it was either 1)buried in my car, 2) buried under a pile of drawings in the kid’s closet, or 3)stuffed in a drawer with a grocery list and a phone message scribbled on the back.
As it turned out, yes, there were to be Valentine festivities. For the preschoolers. I sat my daughter down at the kitchen table, cut large hearts out of plain white paper, and had her color them. Then she drew each of her friends a picture of something that they like. It was adorable.
And here is what she brought home: a big ol’ pile-o-stuff. Not just cards. She also had candy. Treat bags. Necklaces. Pencils. TOYS.
I did some quick math and added up what the parents in this class spent, collectively, on a V-Day party for twelve 4-year-olds, and figured it was enough to feed a family in the developing world for a month or two.
But in addition to lamenting the cultural excesses around every ‘special occasion,’ I keep wondering why we attach so much significance to so many made-up holidays? What are we missing in our lives, really, that we try to fill in with contrived festivity?
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for celebrating and having a good time. But somewhere along the way, we have tried to create meaning around days that hold little or no cultural significance for us; or else have been contrived to sustain greeting card companies from one high holy day to the next.
We don’t just do it with the kids’ school parties. I caught myself spending a full 10 minutes last night digging through the closet for something green. I wound up in olive drab khakis, and a ready response of “Hey, my name is ERIN. That should be enough green for anybody who’s asking.”
If you hit happy hour today at any establishment with a Mc’ or an O’ in the name today, you will have to fight through a crowd of happily buzzed folks who took off work and started drinking early because IT’S ST PATRICK’S DAY!! WOOOOOOO!
How many of these folks are Catholic? Or of Irish descent?
You might ask the same of Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday revelers… Are they from New Orleans? Are they making some epic sacrifice for Lent? Or is it just… MARDI GRAS! WOOOOOO!!!!
Or–my personal favorite– CINCO DE MAYO!!! WOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!
I swear to you, I love a margarita as much as the next girl. And don’t get me started on enchiladas. I could rhapsodize about the varietals for days. But I always wondered–even in Phoenix–how many of those gathered for cervesa in the suburbs could tell you so much as a single factoid of history regarding the country just south of the border? Whose heritage we celebrate by…getting hammered and wearing a funny hat?
Sure, celebrate life whenever and wherever you can. But maybe we’ve let some of these holidays take on significance because we lack cultural identity of our own.
Think of it this way… Saint Patrick’s Day, like other heritage-derived celebrations, brings an air of festivity and instant community to even the most mainstream, cookie-cutter bar. It’s an instant party because 1)there’s a crowd, 2) everybody knows why everybody else is there, and 3)there are colorful beads/funny hats/and communal WOOOOOO-ing. There was a time–or maybe I’ve watched too many sitcoms from the 70s–when that sort of community was formed at the neighborhood bar on any given weeknight. But we don’t have the neighborhood bar anymore. We have Applebee’s, claiming to be “America’s Neighborhood Bar and Grill.”
Um…I’ve seen Cheers. IT’S NOT THE SAME.
There’s also an element of story around many of these festive drinking days (that started out as religious feast days). Our country was built on immigration–people bringing the food, the languages, the music and the shared narratives of so many other places, to build new lives on this hopeful, fertile soil. There was freedom. There were ethnic neighborhoods popping up all over. There was a sense of journey. And yes, to go with all the food and music, there were DRINKS. Wine from Italy and Spain and France, beer from Ireland, England and Germany, Cervesa from Mexico and…tea from China.
But behind the beverages and the reveling, there was a deeper, broader narrative that called for shared remembrance and celebration. And many of us have utterly lost that story. I mean, do you know where you come from? I don’t. Not really. My paternal grandmother is a McClure so…. WOOOOOOOOO I’m Irish! (Or Scottish?) I know we have some French, some German, some English names backing us up… But I’ve got no sense of the people who brought those names to the American tree from which I fell. I couldn’t hop a plane to Europe and start digging for roots. I’d have no idea where to begin.
We still love the party, the element of shared celebration. But somewhere along the way, we stopped telling stories and singing songs, and we started building Applebees-es. Instead of teaching our kids where they came from, we started sending them to school with plastic stuff to share with their friends.
And instead of seeking meaning and connection in community–in daily, relational ways–we started waiting for the calendar-imposed excuses to celebrate and gather.
I sincerely hope that this post does not discourage people from inviting me out for margaritas on Cinco de Mayo. Or from bringing me cupcakes on Valentine’s day. Or from giving me a good-natured chide for not being green enough today (even though, yes-huh I am). It’s always a good time for a party. I just reckon we don’t need to wait for Hallmark or Applebee’s to invite us to the celebration.
There’s life out there, folks. Everyday sacred, real and relational, holy and happening life, all around. Sometimes, we drink to it. But sometimes, we can just drink it in. No treat bags or WOOOOOOOOOOing required.