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"Guess We'd Better Get a Tree", an Essay
Doing all the things at Christmas that I used to do when I was young seems silly now. Putting ornaments on the tree just isn't as fun as it used to be.
It's mainly because of my older age and because of my personality type. As we get older, we forget how to have fun. We forget (or sometimes choose not) to live our lives by Horace's motto, "carpe diem". We need justification for the things we do in order to make them meaningful, as adults. This is particularly true of people of my personality type, who don't really see the meaning in ritual. People like me are not ones to engage in small talk, in chatting. We get to the point -- we don't waste time. We don't have as much fun as other people do, doing goofy human things. I find myself wondering why we do all the silly things we do on holidays. I try to find reasons for carrying old traditions on. I probably shouldn't try to do these things, but oh well.
The reason people carry old traditions on, my reader, is because the ritual is one of the most important things in our independent and societal lives. Evidence has shown even the most primitive hominids burying their dead with flowers. These days, we are willing to buy thousand dollar caskets for our dead loved ones, and we give them elaborate funerals and congregate afterwards. When two lovers get married, we throw rice at them and put cans on the back of their car for when they drive off for the honeymoon. We cut trees down and put them in our houses, adorning them with intricate, expensive ornaments so we have a big lighted sap-smelling thing sitting on our carpets at Christmas. We give presents to each other even if we're not Catholic or Christian (that is, my family isn't religious, but we celebrate Christmas). The list goes on and on with somewhat amusing rituals which we perform.
Although silly on a superficial level, these things are important to us. Rituals make events in our lives more encompassing, perhaps more divine. A marriage would not be the same thing unless the lovers were joined together in a church with all the family and caterers and disk jockeys and other people there. Christmas would not be the same thing if we did not give each other presents and put a tree in our houses (for those of you who don't participate in these things, don't get offended -- I am generalizing for feasibility).
Rituals combine the experiences of our present lives with the experiences of millions of other people who have lived in the past. They have participated in the same ritual as we have, and it binds us together. Imagine the people in the Roaring 20's sitting around the Christmas tree as families, as people who love each other! You've done that too! Our experiences are placed on a new level, a more immortal level, a more meaningful level. At the same time, rituals bring us closer to more immediate people in our lives -- we have participated in the rituals together and we have those experiences to hold between each other forever.
Wordsworth said that as we got older, we forgot our former lives in Heaven -- we gradually misplaced our memories. Rituals perhaps are attempts to capture that immortality again.
Having said this, I still think rituals are silly. But their power is so beyond our grasp of comprehension that I'm fascinated completely with the whole idea. Happy Holidays, and don't forget to kiss someone if you're both standing under mistletoe, however ridiculous a tradition it may seem to you.
(One more thing. What do you think is happening to us, now that these rituals aren't celebrated as completely as in the past? Are we destroying the past? Have we found something new to put our energies in?)
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