August brings a flurry of celebrations for my family. My birthday, as well as the birthdays of my grandparents, means lots of cake and time with family. This month also marks the start of the school year, which brings an abundance of back to school activities as we celebrate the start of new experiences. This particular August carries additional excitement as my younger sister is getting married. I have enjoyed getting to share in her happiness as I watched her plan and anticipate celebrating her wedding day. The excitement and festivities of the past few weeks have given me a renewed opportunity to consider celebrations and how the expectations and cause for celebrations change over the course of life.
In previous blog posts, I have written about the “unexpected” aspects of life, reflecting on how reality often differs from my daydreams. As I began to consider how celebrations tie into this reconciliation of daydreams and reality, I realized that a significant aspect of the celebration is impacted by time, specifically, how we tend to place emphasis on when the special milestone is achieved. For example, how old we are appears to impact what and how we celebrate an accomplishment. It seems that at a certain point in our lives, we stop celebrating ourselves, and start diminishing or hiding the unique, fun milestones we encounter or achieve if they don’t fit into the “expected” timeline of when we should be achieving them.
The dictionary defines “celebrate” as “1: to observe or commemorate, 2: to make publicly known, or 3: to perform with rites and ceremonies.” Although celebrations will vary widely, depending on a variety of factors, when I think of celebrations, I include even the small moments, simply taking the time to recognize an achievement or share the celebration and excitement with someone else. The most obvious example of a celebration is birthdays. Have you ever asked a child about their birthday? Even briefly hinting that you have an interest in their special day and they will enthusiastically provide a wish list of presents, ideas for future birthday party themes, and stories from celebrations of years past. My 4 year old daughter tells me frequently that she cannot wait to celebrate her next birthday when she turns “4½” (a milestone we do not actually celebrate), she is just that excited about her birthday. Contrast this with adults who frequently express indifference, oftentimes dismay, regarding their birthday. . At some point, we seem to lose the excitement for celebrating another year of life. What would life look like if adults once again harnessed some of that genuine kid-like excitement of celebrating special days?
Of course, growing out of celebrations seems to extend beyond birthdays, especially when considering the additional layer of when we expect things to happen. For example, reaching personal goals or completing educational and employment milestones. When teenagers graduate high school or those in their early twenties land their first “adult job,” they are surrounded with congratulations and encouragement. When someone is young and takes a risky step forward into a business venture, they are commended for their bravery and ambition. However, for some, these milestones are, due to a variety of circumstances, achieved later than anticipated or expected. And, we can become bogged down on the timeline rather than the achievements themselves. The congratulations might feel muted, sentiments of “it’s about time” are all but expressed out loud, and the same risky business ventures are chastised as reckless. If a milestone would be celebrated upon achievement at an expected, specific life timeline, are we missing an opportunity to share genuine excitement and joy through celebration of the milestones achieved at unexpectedly later life timelines?
Cultural norms and societal expectations impact the idea of the “expected” what, how, and when of milestone achievement. Unfortunately, it feels that sometimes the confines of the “expecteds” diminish opportunities for celebration, or even at times attach a silent judgement, if events occur on a different timeline from the expected norm. While cultural norms are not something that can be easily changed, I am doing my best to combat and overcome the “expected” timing aspect of milestone accomplishment and celebrate myself and others with unrestricted joy in all of life’s celebratory accomplishments!
As I think about the celebrations that fill my calendar this month, and the joy they bring, I find myself wishing for more, not less, opportunities to celebrate. Wouldn’t it be great if we shifted our perspectives away from the timing of when and focused instead on encouraging each other with genuine enthusiasm and overflowing celebration? So, let’s all countdown the days to our half birthdays and share excitement regarding all of life’s milestones, and let’s lift up each other with genuine celebration.
Jessica is a wife, mom, school social worker, and aspiring writer. She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters.
photo credit: personal photo