By Steve Dennis
Celebrations have always been a part of family and community life. Although most of our celebrations and holidays have gradually changed since their historical beginnings, their purpose has not. As always, the pageantry, ritual, and symbolism of celebrations help us to unite, motivate, and educate. For parents, this makes them ideal tools for building family strengths and teaching children values. Research continues to find that families who celebrate together are healthier and better able to meet the challenges of modern day living. So what does this mean for parents? Let's take a closer look.
Celebrations help us unite. Whether it's the presentation of Olympic gold, a backyard birthday barbecue, or handing out diplomas at a high school graduation, celebrations unite us. They allow us to share in the success. They bind us to our friends, families, and communities. As human beings we have a deep need to belong or be a part of something larger than ourselves. We come together as couples, friends, classmates, colleagues, teams, communities and families. As members of these social groups, we adopt the rules and values of the groups that promote cooperation and connect us together. Research has found that individuals and families who are not well connected to their communities and one another are at greater risk for depression, suicide, delinquency and criminal behavior. On the other hand, youth who feel a part of their communities are more likely to abide by the community's laws and standards for behavior. Similarly, children who feel connected to their families are more likely to live by the rules of the family.
Recently, a panel of family scholars gathered to discuss the strengths and challenges of modern families. One of the problems that was identified was widespread feelings of disconnectedness among many American families. They noted that the rapid pace and change of modern life has left many stressed, depressed, and isolated. Some experts have suggested that traditions, rituals and celebrations are one key to bringing continuity to our lives and connecting us to our past and present.
Celebrations help us motivate. Celebrations not only allow us to take pride in past achievements, but they also rally confidence for the future. For example, celebrating the promotion of a family member sends a message that the person is deserving, worthy, and supported in his or her efforts-all of which motivate the person to even greater achievements. Similarly, holidays such as Thanksgiving or Independence Day can encourage us to be grateful for our blessings or fight to maintain our freedoms. It was during the gloomy hours of World War II when England was at the brink of defeat, that Sir Winston Churchhill rallied his countrymen by reminding them of their strengths and by celebrating their accomplishments. And nearly sixty years later, England still celebrates Churchhill's rallying cry, "We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields, and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender!" Perhaps as parents, we should rally our families and move forward in united purpose.
Celebrations help us educate. One of the goals of our public education system is to develop citizenship and patriotism in our youth. How is it done? It's done by sharing patriotic stories, covering our hearts at flag ceremonies, reciting the pledge of allegiance, and sharing the meaning behind symbols of freedom such as the soaring eagle or the torch of Lady Liberty. Yet, symbols and ceremonies are nothing until they are enriched with meaning. A flag is only colorful fabric until one knows the stories behind it and the values it represents. Then it becomes a tool that helps us cherish and pass on the memories and values of our forefathers. Who isn't stirred by our flag blowing in the wind when they recall the final words of Sir Patrick Henry, "Give me liberty or give me death!" Or the words of our anthem, the Star-Spangled Banner, as penned by Francis Scott Key as he anxiously awaited dawn's early light so he could see if the flag was still flying over Fort McHenry.
Just as these National symbols and celebrations instill in us and in future generations messages of courage, freedom and perseverance, so too, family celebrations and rituals teach lessons of character and values. Celebrating a marriage anniversary teaches children of love, cooperation, and commitment. It also remind us of the vows taken during the wedding and inspires renewal. In every celebration, there is a lesson. By enriching our holidays with stories, symbols and rituals and looking for opportunities to celebrate the accomplishments of each other, we can unite and inspire our families.
Steve Dennis is a member of the faculty in the Department of Home and Family at Brigham Young University - Idaho