I’m reading a fascinating book for class. It’s titled “Women’s Rites, Women’s Mysteries” by Ruth Barrett, and the part I’m currently most enjoying is the deconstruction of several of this culture’s rituals. The issues with marriage, bridal showers, birthdays, and baby showers are not new to me; I’ve considered and mentally struggled with them for some time. By now I’ve made my peace with which rituals I can condone with my presence, and which I cannot. However, there were a few bits which more clearly illuminated some culturally-women-unfriendly issues that I’d previously experienced as only vague discomforts, and there were a few rituals mentioned with which I’ve had no experience whatsoever.
More to the point, I’ve been trying to think which rituals I’ve actually participated in which were meaningful and significant to me. There aren’t many; it would seem I do not share my culture’s attitude about which rituals are important, and how others should be celebrated. Weddings (and all their associated practices) annoy me intensely, due to the powerful “woman = material asset sold by father to husband” ritualization, and I intensely dislike the heavy-handed pressure tactics of the “wedding mafia.”
I love the holidays and the turnings of the seasons, but I love holidays such as Christmas because I so enjoy the parties and singing and sharing and joy they promote. The religious aspects of the celebrating are almost completely irrelevant to me — I’m celebrating the closeness of community in the darkest days of winter, and the joy of the return of the sun as a symbol of the strength and constancy of life. Easter too was a time of rebirth, but it is the songs of joy, the brilliant flowers, the fun of making colored eggs together, that I most enjoy.
I guess this was all thrown into painfully strong relief for me by having several sweeties who either were quite happy to let me do all the preparatory work for the celebrations, or didn’t give a shit at all. I am fortunate in that my current sweetie at least tries to live up to my expectations of what a holiday is, although I suspect he wishes I was as indifferent as he, just as I wish he wouldn’t pass on to me his angst about whether he “has enough gifts for me.”
Struggling with my internal anguish at the loss of shared ritual, and the ensuing painful feelings of emptiness, made me have to analyze carefully what it truly was that I so missed and desired. “Quantity” isn’t the issue, and never has been — it’s always been the quality of the gift-giving experience that’s mattered to me. A dozen roses, a box of imported chocolates, and an expensive piece of diamond jewelry would mean nothing to me if effectively they were bought by the secretary and handed to the boss as he walked out the door, with a reminder that it’s his anniversary. The other extreme isn’t much better, however: rushing out to the store on the day in question and picking up whatever’s on sale. Neither of those speak to me at all, because there’s no real emotion involved. The exchange of material goods may seem to be the entirety of the ritual, but to believe that misses the true depth and meaning for which the ritual was initially established.
I want to put thought and consideration into the gifts I give friends; I want to feel they’ve done something similar for me. It’s a material icon of closeness and community, I suppose — I want the sharing to be symbolic of the joy of being part of, and of participating in a close-knit community. In some ways I guess I’m an excellent example of Emile Durkheim’s assertion that almost all rituals and religious practices are manifestations of society attempting to validate itself. Just as a religion’s rituals help create intense emotions and bonding between its participants, binding individuals into a collective by means of shared, validating experience — so too do I wish to experience shared, possibly intense connection with dear friends, which lets us both know we were right to choose each other as friends. In simplest form, I guess we could say both a society’s religion, and what I desired of holidays, is the offering of a unifying emotional catharsis.
I’m going to have to think about this more; it’s raised some interesting questions in my head, and I find myself wanting to do more social sharing again. Unfortunately I don’t currently seem to belong to any sort of large structured community. That’s due to personal choice and laziness, I know, since I am somewhat distrustful of large (and usually impersonal) organizations, and haven’t really looked much. I’m sort of dabbling with the idea of creating my own personally meaningful rituals to celebrate special times of the year. If others end up wishing to participate with me, that’ll be wonderful! -but if not, at least I’ll have a small and joyous celebration to help me more often achieve and enjoy symbolic meaning, which will hopefully lead to a stronger sense of internal fulfillment for myself.