Why What We Celebrate Matters

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Why What We Celebrate Matters

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Celebration and ritual play an important role in our lives. Scroll through your Facebook feed at the end of summer at the barrage of first-day-of school photos and you’ll understand what I mean.

Rituals and celebrations mark the beginning or end of something. Whether it’s growing a year older, moving out of your parents house, or even having a baby, rituals give some semblance of structure and how we understand ourselves and our world.

Another party sounds admittedly trivial until we feel just how off everything feels when we can’t celebrate. How many Zoom baby showers have you been to? Or hearing how high school seniors felt when their graduation ceremony got canceled? Or, on a more granular level, how do you acknowledge you’re in work mode without your usual commute?

Even anthropologists study rituals to understand belief systems and what groups of people value — more specifically, rites of passage. This term, first coined by Victor Turner, is defined as a set of rituals which moves a person (or group of people) from one type of social being to another, like a child to adult, student to graduate, or singles to couples.

Turner also talks about three phases to these rites of passages:

  • Separation, where you’re removed from one social role to another
  • Liminality, where you’re in-between different social roles
  • Reintegration, where you’re reintroduced into the world in your new role

These rituals and rites of passage are how we see and value one another in the systems of support we create.

While we’ve turned these rites of passage into a form of celebration (rightly so), where it becomes problematic is when we value certain ones over another.

I’ve talked about how weddings and pregnancies often seem like the only adult milestones many find worth celebrating. And while both of these are major transitions or rites of passage, there are many others, like paying off your student loans, or getting a promotion.

We’ve got plenty to celebrate even if we look at Turner’s description of the main rites of passages:

  • Separation: Finalizing the lease on your new dream apartment
  • Liminality: Editing your book manuscript
  • Reintegration: Becoming a newly minted Certified Financial Planner or lawyer or doctor or PhD.

I’m still grappling with how to celebrate these rites of passage, partly because there still so much emphasis on marriage and motherhood.

What other ways can I appropriately acknowledge and celebrate my friend getting a book deal, or becoming debt free?

In Priya Parker’s book, The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters, she suggests that in order for more successful gatherings (like celebrations), we need to pay more attention to how the group is gathered.

Since the most important element of gathering is purpose, it should be specific as to why a particular event is unique and meaningful. Then, select people who you know will engage meaningfully with the purpose of the celebration or ritual, and start each gathering with something that encapsulates the purpose of the gathering.

So to get some more specific ideas on how you all are celebrating and gathering, I asked you…

And here’s what 10 of you suggested:

Send branded products to a friend starting a new business so they can start Marketing. –@caligurlwerks

Shower the new business owner (or graduate) with your favorite business books! –@roadtomiraflores

Business anniversary! I managed to stay afloat in the freaking pandemic for a whole year! This is so much more important to me than my birthday right now.. –@eleftheriasfik

A meal train like when people have a baby! I’m getting my doctorate and I can’t say the number of times I’ve not had time to cook or meal prep, and living on a stipends doesn’t really afford eating out all the time. –@daedaldesia

401k milestones reaching! Maxing out 401k that year parties! Six month expenses emergency funds! Growing your job scope at work parties. In my case, getting Principal Engineer title 💪🏼🥂. –@pdxmarla

Yessss!! My friend just got her citizenship recently and we threw a citizenship party 👏 more parties just for whatever 🔥 –@financeforgenz

I created a divorce registry for myself and have been LOVING having a concrete way to ask friends/family for support on my new start. Highly recommend! –@lvladybird

I have had a Divorciversary every year where I bring together all of my favorite people! –@mackenziesherburne

As a woman who had a bridal and baby shower I FULLY INTENDED to also have a student loan payoff party as well. My only demand is that I have a cake with the amount of my student loan on it that I smash (guests will eat another cake) and I want to spend the amount of money it costs me each month in my loan payment on the party food, so expect there to be like $100 bottles of champagne and boujie cheese platters. 😂 –@jacmadethat

I also think it would be great to normalize celebrating milestones in sobriety, paying off debts, and life changes (like leaving a soulsucking job in the pursuit of something better) as well. –@sailorthejane


Do you have a story to tell about how you celebrated a milestone beyond marriage and motherhood? Let us know in the comments.

And remember to join us for more conversations like this one bysubscribing to “Too Ambitious.

If you want to get a deeper dive into more stories like these, you might enjoy

I Spent Ten Years Ashamed of Being Single

5 Women on Changing Ambitions and Goals for 2022

What We Mean When We Call Women Spinsters

What We Mean When We Call Women Witches

Weddings and Babies aren’t the Only Milestones Worth Celebrating

Image credit: Maskot/Maskot via Getty Images

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