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How to Celebrate When Everything's Canceled

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It seems like hardly anyone is in a celebratory mood these days. Between illness and the news, concern over family members and job security, everyone is just trying to keep it together from one day to the next. And yet, the reality is that it’s a season of many important cultural and religious celebrations: Easter, Passover, the end of Ramadan to name a few. And birthdays and anniversaries just keep coming too.

So how do we keep spirits up when, truth be told, we’re not really feeling it?

Perhaps the secret is gratitude. Personal development and happiness gurus would tell us that thankfulness, especially documented and demonstrated gratitude, does wonders for the human spirit. And I agree that counting our blessings, however few or small they might seem right now compared to the load we’re carrying, is bound to give us some buoyancy. 

But is there anything else we can do? Besides avoiding the fear and taking note of all we have, is there a way to actually be joyful right now? Is it even appropriate?

I would argue, yes. It is entirely appropriate. 

Passover was a feast meal that prepared the Israelites for the journey they took on foot to flea captivity. While they were eating goat and lamb, the Egyptians were waking up to find their children dead. It was not what you would consider the right time for a party. 

In the Christian tradition, Passover also represents the last meal before Jesus’ death, the very scene where he is betrayed by one of his closest friends and is then handed over to be killed. Also not on occasion where you’re likely to see confetti cannons.

Ramadan is the Muslim tradition of fasting for a month. The self-deprivation is to remind one-self what it feels like for others who are in need. 

Easter celebrates Jesus’ resurrection. But even for secular participants, it represents Winter giving way to Spring. It is the mark of death being turned over to life again. A new life. Not a new normal, but a radically abnormal, abundant life. 

We may not have all the ingredients we normally would for our holiday feasts. Our gatherings may be much smaller or more virtual. Perhaps meals will be prepared and delivered on a doorstep. Homes may be much more empty and quiet than what makes us comfortable. 

But even if we are the only ones in our household, there is much to look forward to. Spring is here reminding us that the sun shines, birds sing and we have the opportunity to do something new with today.

We get to love each other hard and well. We get to laugh and make things with our hands and listen to beautiful sounds and move our bodies. We get to rest when we are tired and rise again when we’re restored. If there is something worth celebrating, it’s this. We’re alive. We get today, a new day full of promise.

So whether you’re observing a religious holiday or marking a milestone like a birthday, it’s ok to feel like crying and also like dancing. Go ahead and set a table that feels special and makes you smile or make a fuss-free delicious cake with your family. You may not feel like eating lamb or roast, you may want to feast on pizza and ice cream from the carton. That is more than ok too. 

What is important is living fully. That means feeling the negative emotions and the positive ones, as they come. It means being honest with each other about how we’re doing and asking for help when we need it. Celebrating, being thankful, marking time are all about welcoming the abundance that life has to offer, the good and bad, ups and downs, deaths and pregnancies, illness and recoveries, job loss and offers. When we make room for all life has to offer...

That’s when the party starts.

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