We have so much to celebrate, a champagne advertisement once exclaimed. And the list is growing.
Perhaps it’s a blow struck against the informality of the times, a contribution of the hippies to the American culture, by which an Old Navy T-shirt, cutoff jeans and flip-flops are suitable attire for pretty much any occasion. Playing dress-up these days remains a targeted event – mark your calendar, we’re going to a fancy party – but the opportunities seem to be increasing, and growing in intensity.
At my age I only think about the recently-concluded prom season in defensive terms — who’s on the road and when and whether I’ll be the guy mentioned in the fifth paragraph of the newspaper article after the incident – but there remains prom season. Prom Season, which, except for a first marriage, is as close as a young woman will get in her life to playing Cinderella. From what I can tell, the various pressures of the event have stayed intact, even magnified, but apparently getting invited to the prom is a ceremony in itself.
There is a trend, I am informed, in making the ritual “Will you go with me to the prom?” request a nerve-wracking and elaborate drama, sometimes involving props, the involvement of a guy’s friends, adequate space for the plot to unfold and of course, the presence of a videographer with an iPhone. The appeal to the prom date-elect must be splashy and eye-catching, and it helps if she is likely to say yes.
So much like male birds showing off plumage during mating rituals, this is. So much like some hybrid engagement-wedding ceremony, this is.
Ah, weddings. You likely have stories as interesting as mine about wedding ceremonies gone wrong, receptions gone haywire with videos gone viral, and post-vow incidents which, for better or worse, set the tone for the marriage. A wedding’s velocity is gathered in the warmup acts, the parties, pub crawls and similar tension relievers the participants will either be hard-pressed to recall or deny outright.
So weddings and subsequent receptions these days are the culmination of bachelor and bachelorette parties, ceremonial meetings of families and others of the tribes, a week or two of doing things one ordinarily doesn’t. With video evidence. There are cultures on earth in which wedding rituals are, or were, days-long affairs, and we tend to shake our heads over the time-consuming extravagance of it all. We do it that way today, here, but here it involves drunken young people in limousines. Movable feasts of celebration and what happens in Niagara Falls stays in Niagara Falls.
Win or lose, your Little League team needs a post-game stop at a Dairy Queen to – what, solidify its unity or reward its play and conduct or quench the bitter taste of a dropped fly ball or something. Mom and Dad need a beer. It’s all part of the ritual, like graduation weekends, which once were graduations and are now weekends. Even the conclusion of a project at work is a signal for taking the crew to a restaurant for beer and bar food.
Despite Americans’ famed informality, we are aggressively finding new things to celebrate and altering the traditional patterns of conduct to reflect our need for community. Having a baby? Congratulations! While you and your friends make preparations, there is a party to throw. The baby shower, at least for first-time moms in need of supplies, is a given; we are now expected to party after the baby’s gender is learned.
The reveal party, it is called, can be as elaborate as anyone pleases, but somewhere along the line, something either pink or blue is displayed in a moment of drama and breathless anticipation. Confetti dropped from a balcony, a fountain of water turning colors, a pink or blue guided missile sailing by. Then we know if it’s a boy or it’s a girl. Any excuse to get together.
It was once said that only three institutions on earth know anything about ceremony – England’s Royal House of Windsor, the Vatican and the Montreal Canadiens hockey team. In that egalitarian spirit for which Americans are so well-known, we are capable of filtering all that stuff into rituals we make ourselves, for ourselves. The events of the Fourth of July, this year’s military pomp notwithstanding, are a great example: we honor our country by making a lot of noise, in casual clothes. Citizens, celebrating.
After the proms, graduations, weddings and baby big deals, we may note that the wallet is empty although the spirit remains strong and the memories won’t go away. So we scale back. And plan another party.
Contact Ed Adamczyk at EdinKenmore@gmail.com.