The Joy of Celebration
Ritual Has its Place in Living Life
For as long as I can remember I’ve struggled to celebrate myself. Birthdays were hard, I felt overwhelmed by being the focus and simultaneously let down when I couldn’t feel the special celebration energy. Big life events were a little easier because the focus was usually on another person and not just me. For the most part, I ignored this as a personal failing of mine because I thought my standards for celebrating were too high, I was relying on others to celebrate around me, and I should know how to celebrate myself. Also, and this is my personal favorite, because it wasn’t worth celebrating.
Looking back, so much passed me by with little to no fanfare from myself. Birthdays, holidays, graduations, degrees, licensures, passing exams, getting my first client… The list could go on and on. I’ve been low-key thinking about this for a while because I was getting fed up with myself for ignoring all that I was doing. Each new adventure that I went on was so anticlimactic. Then the world found itself in a pandemic. Celebrations stopped. No more going out to eat or parties. No more toasts with friends or cheers in the crowd. What little celebration that I had from others was now gone. I had to learn to celebrate myself. I could either celebrate or I could stop working towards goals.
Around last summer, with another birthday looming, I started thinking about what a celebration is, what it feels like, looks like, and what makes it celebratory. The easiest thing that I settled on was that there was food shared with loved ones. Then I was stuck. I put the search for celebration behind me as my youngest got ready to start first grade, I passed a big exam, and my husband got a promotion. And I forgot about it.
I don’t think I’m alone in struggling with my accomplishments and reaching hard-won goals. It’s all well and good to hear someone say “I’m proud of you” or get a flurry of “congratulations” texts from your people but it can feel so hollow when you aren’t stopping to feel the joy of the end of a journey. Not celebrating my personal wins led to minimizing the effort I put into my goals. It had another consequence that I never expected, goals became lackluster. Even the big stuff. I found myself thinking “ok, time to find another challenge” but so burnt out on goal setting that nothing even sounded fun. For once in my life, there was no next step that I was getting ready to work towards. And come on, it’s not like I was even close to being done with learning and growing. So, what was the problem? What was I doing wrong?
I didn’t have an answer. I had no celebration energy and no goal enthusiasm. I was just coasting. At first, I thought I just needed a break. I did need a break and I took one. But that didn’t fix it. I looked at goals I’d never considered before. I pushed myself and I searched. When I got my LPC license, something I had been working on earning since 2016, I told my best friend and she asked me what I was doing to celebrate. I told her I didn’t know how to celebrate. Instead of being a high point and an amazing goal reached, this was a low point for me.
Then my son told me that he had made the Chancellor’s List at his university. I told him that we had to celebrate. He said it wasn’t a big deal. I told him that it was a big deal and that if he didn’t see that it was a big deal it would make it harder to see other accomplishments as a big deal. I told him that celebration was necessary, even for the little things because that is what moves us forward and gives us the energy to do big things.
At that moment, I heard it. It came right out of my mouth and I knew. I picked back up my dusty journey to find celebration and put the joy back into life. Talking to people about what they did to celebrate to get ideas. Scouring Pinterest and Instagram for the celebrations of others. I thought about rituals and traditions that make occasions special. There was food, so I was onto something with that, but there was also community, and a ritual to celebrate. Our culture has birthday traditions and holiday rituals. Religions, cultures, and societies celebrate all kinds of things all of the time. Why couldn’t I build that for myself and my family?
Building a ritual was tricky. It needed to be something that was flexible enough to use for various celebrations and simple enough that we wouldn’t skip it because there was too much going on. I looked at Super Bowl parties, launch parties, family gatherings, cultural rituals, and so many things that had elements of celebration and joy in them. I found celebration in even the most dangerous and dire environments. Even when humans are struggling, they need to celebrate. I determined that to celebrate others we have to begin by celebrating ourselves and not just on special occasions. It needs to be the little things too.
My family’s ritual is still being built and I am still working on celebrating myself for the little things. The journey to a celebration is not over for me but I believe in the importance of sharing the in-between. So much of what we see is the hard beginning or the joyous ending all tied up in a bow. I hope that this post shows some of the joy in between as well. We need celebration now more than ever. We need to find joy in celebrating the little things. Life is made up of little things.
Building a Celebration Ritual:
What makes you feel a celebration? Is it the people, the atmosphere, the mood? What food could you use as a celebration ritual? Think birthday cake, a favorite dish, or Super Bowl snacks.
What kind of celebration could you have with your people? Zoom, facetime, including those who live with you. Planning a special trip to a favorite local place, door dashing your favorite dessert, or getting your nails done.
What is something special enough to remember and look forward to but simple enough to not dread putting on? I’m thinking premade sandwiches and cake for dinner with a toast from everyone at the table. But it could easily be breakfast in bed with your spouse or kids each taking turns making up a silly song about how great the accomplishment is. Handmade cards anyone?
Will there be gift-giving? Is a super personalized gift the way to go or a standard gift for all celebrations? I’m thinking books.
Whatever your celebration ritual looks like, make it something you can feel. Feel your accomplishments and reflect on the work you have put in. The long hours and the tears. Feel it all and remember to take a picture to commemorate.