Holidays and Rituals

You may have noticed that I enjoy holidays. I like that they remind us of good things we may fail to appreciate in our daily lives, (or, in the case of awareness days, of the bad things others need to deal with), and that they bring us together. As I write, today is Firefly Day, (4-24) where fans of the short lived SF TV show share their fandom, or Douglas Adams Day, where people carry a towel, or Talk like a Pirate Day, or yesterday where Dr. Who fans made tally marks on their arms.

These actions being done by people who may not know each other, may help each other find other people who have something in common with them. Unlike sports fans, who can assume that those in the stadium with them are also fans, they are more like the early Christians who could identify each other with drawing two curving lines- representing the “Jesus fish”- that could be drawn in dust or spilled wine and then wiped away unnoticed by those not in on the symbolism. Masons have secret handshakes, and gangs have “colors”. We want to know that we are part of a special group.

Humans have a need for community, a need to show solidarity, to feel part of a group. We reinforce this with rituals, a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order” with the intent of creating a desired result, whether a shared goal or simply to know who the others who share your goals are.

Being part of the community was natural when most people stayed their whole lives in the same town. It used to be that people could assume that everyone they saw was like them, thought the same, did the same things. In the modern world we have lost that (perhaps false sense of) security. Currently 17.7% of Americans go to church weekly, which is still above the 5.5% of Americans who are regular football spectators (although much less than the 13-30% fandom numbers in other countries from Europe to Australia). On the other hand, over 21% of Americans got to baseball games, more than Church services. But that still leaves four out of five of us not having church or sports to provide a sense of being “inside a group”. So we show signals to our own groups- those who are in the same fandoms as we are, who love what we love, think what we think.

And to share a holiday, to do something together (even if with others scattered across the whole world) is to share a ritual. Whether you are pausing for a moment of silence to remember the victims of the Shoah, or the Armenian Genocide, or whether you are carrying a towel or wearing a lilac on May 25th, you are doing something that creates a connection between you and your community- even if it is a community in minds rather than proximity of bodies.

Our world is different, our friendships are maintained not by working elbow to elbow, but by being in contact often through modern technology. So it makes sense that our rituals and holidays would be done the same way.

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