Most people like to mark the big events in some way or another, and often birth, death and marriage are the occasions that get not especially spiritual folk inspired to want a dash of religion in their lives. One of the things I love about paganism is that it doesn’t just focus on the hatch, match and dispatch services, there’s room to celebrate all kinds of things. I’ve done house blessing work as a celebrant, heard plenty about coming of age celebrations and elder rites, for example.
I have a deep seated personal aversion to marking things just because some long dead person identified it as the right thing, or the right day to be making a fuss of. Especially once commercialism gets in the mix and starts sucking on the marrow of real experiences. But at the same time, the quiet, private marking of personal transitions, events, and anniversaries has become really important to me. By this means my calendar has a sprinkling of very personal celebrations in it – like the anniversary of first going to America to meet Tom. I also celebrate the anniversary of running away from a very unhappy situation – which for me has become ‘freedom day’. Today is the first anniversary of my marriage, a lovely moment to pause and reflect on the epic journey this last year has been and to contemplate where we might be going. It’s been a hectic, crazy time but through all the challenges, we’ve become even closer. For me, that’s what marriage should be.
Today inevitably makes me cast my mind back to the first anniversary of my first marriage. I was heavily pregnant and struggling with very hot weather. The day went unremarked, uncelebrated. I lived for a long time in a situation in which even obvious things like birthdays and Valentine’s day passed unrecognised, or greeted with such awkwardness that all the joy was knocked out of it. Learning anew how to celebrate has been a lovely process.
We’ve marked all kinds of personal events this year, doing things together that make us smile. It’s not about spending money, just about spending time. One of the effects of these little rites of passage is the shared affirmation of our story. Big rites of passage are about bringing your community together to witness major life changes and make sure everyone has caught up with the implications. Little rites of passage are about engaging with your own story, picking up the things that really mattered and coming back to honour them, creating small spaces to recognise and enjoy the things that make this life uniquely your own. It affirms a sense of self, and sharing that with others, reinforces bonds and relationships.
Next year I shall be celebrating the anniversary of moving to the boat, as a new day in the calendar. There are book releases to celebrate too. Whether any of those seem relevant the following year remains to be seen – there being no need to cling on to old celebrations once they no longer need to be marked.
Sometimes it’s a case of just starting the day with ‘happy Wednesday’ (or whatever it is) and celebrating the sheer Wednesdayness of it, in all its glory.
Out of the personal events come things we hold in common. Freedom day I share with my child, but it also connects me with a lot of other people who have run, and who acknowledge their own days in their own ways. Boat day I share with my husband and child, but it’s had a much wider influence on family, friends, people at school who have all been touched by the changes in our lives, in all kinds of ways I probably don’t know about. This time last year a group of my friends and family came out to support and recognise my marriage to Tom, a year on he knows some of them a lot better, which is great. Nothing that happens to us exists in isolation. The act of acknowledging and celebrating can create room to recognise others who have been part of the journey, and by remembering a date we weave them further into the narrative threads of our own lives, and become part of the stories they tell as well.