“A true celebration is never passive. Celebrations aren’t about being amused or entertained. A true celebration is an active response to the wonders and blessings of life.”
I’m in Charge of Celebrations is the title of one of my favorite children’s books. This book by Byrd Baylor tells the story of a girl who decides what and when to celebrate. She celebrates treasured experiences that she plans to remember for the rest of her life. She spends a lot of time just looking around to find things that are really worth celebrating. She gives the sky her full attention and was lucky enough one day to actually see a green cloud. She decided to recognize this extraordinary event by making Green Cloud Day an annual celebration. This young girl decides on her own when to celebrate the New Year; not on Jan. 1, which she describes as just another winter day. For her, the new year occurs in spring when the morning light comes early, the white winged doves return from Mexico, wildflowers cover the hills, and her favorite cactus blooms.
After reading this children’s book, I started thinking about what most of us celebrate and who we allow to be in charge of our celebrations. Perhaps we go with pre-set holidays, allowing a calendar to decide for us what and when to celebrate. But we don’t have to be confined to what the calendar says. We can put ourselves in charge of celebrations; and we don’t have to wait for what other people may say are the “big moments” in life births, retirements, weddings, etc. We can celebrate the happenings of everyday life: a sunrise, trees in bloom, wildflowers in the woods, acts of kindness, and words of encouragement. We can enrich our lives by celebrating what many people may not even notice, like a soft breeze, the laughter of children at play, the smell of rain, and that warm glow you feel as you embrace someone you love.
We can celebrate alone or with others. We can celebrate in small ways or big ways. But a true celebration is never passive. Celebrations aren’t about being amused or entertained. A true celebration is an active response to the wonders and blessings of life. It’s a response that engages our bodies, minds, and spirits. We can celebrate by pausing and uttering a deep “ah” as we witness a double rainbow in the sky. Or we might celebrate in a bigger way by gathering flowers, preparing a feast, and inviting friends to celebrate a special event with us. I sometimes celebrate by hiking in the mountains near my home, spending an afternoon walking along the river, or sitting in my backyard just watching the birds and other creatures who may come to visit.
Celebrating with Community
At times, I celebrate with others at community events; but I choose these celebrations carefully. I look for celebrations that have deep roots to where I live. While living in Olympia, WA, I enjoyed the Procession of Species, where this solemn but spectacular celebration originated. I now live in New Mexico, where the annual Festival of the Cranes is one of my favorite community events. I recently participated in a community celebration of resilience and creativity. When I first read about this event, I was surprised to hear it referred to as a “celebration” versus a “commemoration,” as the event related to the 400th anniversary of the first documented landing of Africans at Jamestown to be sold into bondage. What about this, I wondered, could be a reason to celebrate? As I participated in the event and reflected a little deeper, I realized that what we were celebrating certainly wasn’t the cruelty and injustice of slavery, but the resilience and creativity of the people who survived slavery and its aftermath. Participating in this community celebration reminded me of how, at times, even sad and tragic events can call forth and spotlight elements of the human spirit well worth celebrating.
I also enjoy celebrating global events, like the winter solstice. As I celebrate the solstice, I think about the many other people all around the world who are standing with me in celebrating the gradual lengthening of daylight hours. I believe the plants and animals celebrate this event in their own way, as well. I know, too, that the winter solstice has been celebrated for thousands of years; and I feel awed to be a part of such a worldwide and historical event.
The child who tells her story through the children’s book kept a record of her celebrations in a notebook. You might do the same, or you might modify the idea by writing a poem, taking a photo, or drawing a picture to record your personal celebrations. You might even consider making a quilt to memorialize your most significant celebrations. Some of your personal celebrations can become an annual event. Diane Ackerman, in Deep Play, describes how she and a friend invented “Blossom Day” to celebrate the first petals on a dogwood tree. Each year, their celebration of the return of the blossoms includes a pilgrimage to the official Blossom Tree and the exchange of small gifts representing nature’s bounty, such as pretty stones and pots of herbs.
Thinking about celebrations reminds me of something that the poet, Osho, once said: “Life should not only be lived, it should be celebrated.” I agree; but as I grow older, I’m often faced with many things I can’t control. One thing I can control, however, is what and how I celebrate. The child in the Byrd Baylor book had 108 celebrations in one year. That sounds like a lot, but since I’m in charge of celebrations, I’ve decided to look for something I can celebrate every day.
Can I really find something every day that’s worth celebrating? Yes, I believe I can. Doing so, however, means focusing and slowing down. It means spending time just looking around, looking for those miracles that happen every day, sometimes in the smallest way. Just being there and noticing these small miracle offers great rewards. The child who put herself in charge of celebrations found that watching her favorite cactus bloom made her think she should bloom herself. She tells us that when you find just the right thing to celebrate, “you’ll feel like you’re standing on top of a mountain and you’ll catch your breath like you were breathing some new kind of air.” Just knowing that I might experience something similar is why I put myself in charge of celebrations.
Want more? Read our article “Be the Life of the Party.”