Recently, a friend and I were talking about the pressure and stress involved with planning an upcoming celebration. She’s throwing a big getaway for her friend’s 30th birthday, and had the (well-intentioned, if a bit short-sighted) idea to make it a surprise trip, involving nearly a dozen of the friend’s friends and family. This of course started with a lot of vigorous, excited email chains, and has now devolved into a logistical and emotional nightmare, involving hurt feelings, financial awkwardness, and conflicting priorities. Anyone who has planned a huge celebration of this nature can understand the complexity, and admire the optimism it takes to think that you can make something like this happen without a decent dose of drama and stress. It’s almost the perfect test of a good manager, and it’s a shame you can’t put things like “successfully organized a 10-person vacation without anyone killing each other” on your resume.
I was raised in a distinctly non-religious home, and aside from my brief-but-intense flirtation with born-again Christianity that led to me carrying this bible around my high school for a year (lol), I’ve never been religious, either. But I have always been devout, let’s say, about the idea of celebrations. My biggest priority, when it comes to discretionary spending, has always been things like trips to see friends, annual gatherings of far-flung groups, and parties for things like birthdays or life events. My family was this way, too, partially because, without things like traditional religious importance to really mark the “celebration” times, the idea of making time for people and celebrating whenever possible was our way of showing that same level of connection, effort, and community.
I grew up with parents who were always throwing big theme parties or poker nights to gather people together, and I have more memories of visiting family members in a random week in June than I do for Christmas or Easter. And while I believe that whatever you choose to designate as an important occasion to mark is worthy, I do think that there was some benefit in never thinking it had to be for one date in particular. It could be December 25th, or it could be August 10th. It could be a 30th birthday, or it could be the winter ski trip you all manage to get your shit together for.
The only difference, I would say, in holding your events on designated “special” moments, versus having them whenever you choose, is that there is less inherent pressure on making one event perfect. I’ve talked a lot before about how things like weddings and engagements tend to create a lot of undue pressure, for women in particular, to live a kind of fairy-tale perfection that may be out of their price range, logistically complicated, or not live up to their expectations. And while everyone should have that beautiful moment to celebrate their love, they should also not feel as though they are following a roadmap which, if it doesn’t live up to their idealized expectations, makes them somehow a failure, or a bad person for disappointing.
One particular celebration that we can all agree on as overrated in its “this must be special and magical” nonsense is New Year’s Eve. Everyone knows the pressure of making New Year’s ~tHe MoSt sPeCiAL NiGht EveR~, and the existential feeling of malaise when it, inevitably, doesn’t match our imagined evenings. When any other party not ending in a kiss would just be a party well-spent, we often find ourselves hopping from lame party to crowded bar, desperately searching for a way to be perfectly happy and partnered up when that clock strikes midnight. We know, intellectually, that we could have a way, way better time if we allowed things to unfold a little more naturally and, say, gathered our friends together for a “Happy 2016” party some time in early January, but we also know that everyone is inevitably going to be asking us what our NYE looked like, and waiting to see the perfect photo of us clinking a champagne glass with 45 of our closest acquaintances.
Whether it’s Christmas, or New Year’s, or a 30th birthday, or a wedding, the idea is that we should of course celebrate in the way we want to, but we should also remember that it is just one night among many in our lives, and that it doesn’t have to be more picture-perfect than any other time. We can do our best to have a special moment, but we can also remind ourselves that, if we choose, we can create what it special about these moments at any other time in the year. We can go on retreats, surprise-visit friends in distant cities, organize magical staycations with our significant others on a random weekend, or have an annual event that we turn into special based on our own definition. Because what makes these moments “moments” is simply enjoying ourselves, being around the people we love, and treating ourselves in a way we don’t normally give ourselves permission to. That is something that we have been taught needs to happen only on very specific occasions — and that’s just ridiculous.
It’s especially ridiculous when you consider how much that external pressure to turn a day into The Perfect Facebook Profile Picture leads us to spend. We often sink undue amounts of money into things, partially because we want to, but partially because we think that this is absolutely when it needs to be spent. We go crazy spending money on holiday gifts, even though we could be surprising our loved ones with a few small, thoughtful gifts throughout the year, on top of something little at the holidays. In fact, you could argue that receiving those random acts of gift-giving would feel even more wonderful than one big purchase all bundled up into a semi-regrettable package under a tree. We are allowed to designate things as special for whatever reason we want to, and to disperse that love and effort throughout the year, and our lives.
I told my friend that, when it came to this 30th birthday, it might end up not living up to her expectations, or the surprise might get spoiled somehow, or someone might walk away unhappy. It’s just the nature of events this complex, and it’s not her fault in any way. But I also told her that, if she wanted, she could also plan a random picnic in the city for her friend’s 30-and-a-half birthday this summer, and that that memory would be so wonderful and special in its own way, while being a tiny fraction of the cost. I guarantee her friend would remember that picnic, and it would be another reason to celebrate, another reason to extend and spread that love. The trip, the Big Day, is not the be-all, end-all celebration. It can happen whenever we want. And the people who live far away can visit each other at any time, they just happen to cram it all into one moment that they feel absolutely must go off without a hitch.
We have to stop waiting for special occasions, and then going overboard in anxiety and reckless spending when we do. We can have traditional special occasions, of course, but we can also choose to realize that they are just one day in a lifetime. We have as many opportunities to do something as we want, and something as simple as mailing a care package out of the blue can transform someone’s entire month, and remind them how much they are loved. So give yourself permission to mark the smaller events, to go all out for random weekends, to show people your care just because you thought of it. Stop waiting for special shit to happen to you, because your whole life is special. You just have to decide when to recognize it.
Image via Flickr