I am not what you would call a natural born celebrator. Although I have always thoroughly enjoyed celebrating my birthday, it wasn’t until several years ago that I fully embraced the importance of creating ceremony and celebrating. Growing up there was not much ceremony in my life. Our immediate family was atheist and there was little religion. Not that ceremony is exclusive to religion, but I certainly wasn’t exposed to very much ceremony through that avenue. I didn’t feel like I was missing out of anything. On the contrary, I felt uneasy about ceremony because I equated it with religion and given that I had little exposure to religion, it was a scary unknown.
The only ceremony I was regularly exposed to in childhood was the Passover Seder at my Great Aunt or Grandmother’s house and the ceremony itself was almost as short as “rub-dub, thanks for the grub.” Yet I have fond memories of the food, the shortest reading of the Haggadah possible and most of all the sharing and time with my family. And that points to some important elements of ceremony.
Celebration creates lasting memories. In my 20s and 30s, I didn’t pay much attention to celebration and ceremony. One of the few times I did was when I got married 28 years ago. I loved the wedding experience though that had very little to do with the marriage ceremony itself yet very much to do with celebrating and ritual. The ceremony was beautiful as all weddings are, with simple “I do’s” led by my childhood hometown mayor. The celebration, although with a very small group of just twelve people in total, was a stand out in my life. We were gathered at my family home with our closest family. There was lots of delicious food prepared by Andy and me and my mom. Our beautiful and yummy, tiered wedding cake was from a bakery that was over an hour drive away (well worth it). As we fed each other the first bite of cake—a lovely ritual that symbolizes sharing of the best things in life, I could literally and figuratively taste how sweet my life was up to the moment and was poised to be in the future. As small as the party was, everything we did that day to honor and celebrate the significance of our marriage served to make it be forever indelible in my memory.
Over the years, as I have explored what it means to enjoy life fully, I have been more fully exposed to ceremony in many different ways. As a student of life and a devotee to life learning, I have learned more than I ever thought I would about ceremony. I was exposed to rituals from multiple cultures and religions through my coaching training, leadership and self-actualization training and especially my wedding celebrant training. And I now have a better understanding of why it is so important, regardless of your religion, to create ceremony and celebrate everything.
Celebration slows you down long enough to fully embody your achievement. It is not uncommon for high achievers to zoom past their successes without a moment’s hesitation because they are off to the next achievement. I know that approach all too well. I got my Bachelors, Masters, and PhD, then landed a tenure track role before I left for corporate then rose in the ranks to senior executive roles. I rarely stopped to celebrate each success. I was too busy planning or implementing the next step.
Andy and I woke up—so to speak—when we hit age 40 and realized that we had already accomplished everything we set out to but hadn’t truly acknowledged it until then. The impact of what you experience is so much more powerful when you stop to let it all sink in. By honoring your life events, they are heightened in importance.
Celebration is an acknowledgement that locks in the meaning. The value of each experience in your life is felt more deeply in your body and soul when you take the time to acknowledge. Celebration helps to lock in the meaning by giving you an additional memory not just of the accomplishment but a memory of the celebration itself.
Ceremony enhances celebration. And though celebration alone is a wonderful way to honor your milestones in life, ceremony enhances the experience for a number of reasons. As humans, we are part of a society that shares history and culture. Ceremony gives you a chance to explore and understand profoundly how you are connected. Ceremony often makes use of symbols that are culturally relevant to give you greater depth of appreciation for the personal transformation that you are undergoing. Through ceremony, you get more genuinely connected to the collective and shared understanding of what the milestone you are experiencing has meant to others and means to you.
Ceremony creates community while it honors community. The enactment of a ritual serves to connect you to the collective richness of whatever you are paying tribute to even if you conduct the ceremony for yourself with no one else present. When you gather with others to celebrate through ceremony, you are honoring each other, your importance to one another and acknowledging how the community helped you reach a milestone or goal.
Although celebration and ceremony are typically called upon for major milestones in your life, from coming of age to marriage to death, there are so may wonderful ways to invite ceremony and celebration into your life more often and even day-to-day. Any time you achieve something that is important to you, no matter how big or small, acknowledging it makes it feel all the more amazing. Think about all that you do in your life: buy a house, make a move, sell a house, get a job, change careers, adopt a pet, live together another year, have or adopt a child, and graduations. Celebrating and creating ceremony to honor those special occasions will give you greater joy in life.
Ceremony and celebration need not be reserved for major milestones. Even smaller events and goals and happenings in your life that appear to not have much significance can be made to feel more significant and important when you bestow ceremony and celebration upon them. You can include just about anything you want: accomplishments at work, home projects you’ve completed, the start of new phases in your life, the completion of phases of your life, meeting new friends, dinner with old friends. The ceremony can be as simple as lighting candles while speaking words of gratitude or making a heart-felt toast to elaborate rites and rituals with readings and more. Creating ceremony to celebrate and honor every important aspect of your existence and you will be rewarded with deeper appreciation for being a human in this wonderful thing we call life.
What will you celebrate and honor today?