Ya know, sometimes we’re just desperate for an excuse to eat cake. If you visit timeanddate.com, you’ll quickly learn that there’s basically a holiday for almost every day of the calendar year. Some are celebrated by select religions; others are observed only within certain states. But nationally, we have a variety of holidays that, well…kinda make you want to lie down for a while. We can name just a few:
- Talk like a pirate day (September 19)
- National hairball awareness day (April 29)
- Don’t cry over spilled milk day (February 11)
- Bad poetry day (August 18)
- National corn dog day (March 22)
- Festival of sleep day (January 3)
- Peculiar people day (January 10)
- Take your plants for a walk day (July 27)
There’s apparently also an “eat what you want day” on May 11, though I think we can all agree that this day is basically every major holiday.
We celebrate, we relish the transformation from mere homo sapiens to homo ludens—humans at play. We gather to celebrate holidays, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, baby showers, retirement—even funerals can be at least something of a bittersweet celebration.
We could say it in reverse: how many people celebrate privately? Isn’t there something to the old saying: “The more the merrier?” There’s an energy, a liveliness that we experience when a group of people gather to share joy. And that’s just it, isn’t it? Try to capture joy all for yourself, and it sinks to the floor like a Mylar balloon. Joy finds levity when it is shared, when it is nurtured in the presence of others.
In a recent piece for the Wall Street Journal, Alain de Botton notes that an increasing number of non-religious people are making a beeline for the doors of traditional churches. Why? Because they recognize that something happens in a spiritual community that can’t happen anywhere else. He notes that this makes religious communities vastly different from, say, a restaurant:
“The large number of people who patronize restaurants suggests that they are refuges from anonymity and coldness, but in fact they have no systematic mechanism for introducing patrons to one another…Patrons tend to leave restaurants much as they entered them, the experience having merely reaffirmed existing tribal divisions. Like so many institutions in the modern city (libraries, nightclubs, coffee shops), restaurants know full well how to bring people into the same space, but they lack any means of encouraging them to make meaningful contact with one another once they are there.” (Alain de Botton, “Religion for Everyone,” The Wall Street Journal, February 18, 2012)
His point comes down to this: we may share an experience with others, but these experiences fail to nourish the soul-level cravings in the same way as traditional religion.
A celebration, it seems, is only as powerful as what it celebrates. Throughout the Hebrew scriptures, God’s coming kingdom is described as (among other symbols) something of a banquet—a party, if you will. One of my favorite passages on this subject comes from the lips of Isaiah, one of God’s messengers some seven centuries before the birth of Jesus:
“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price. (Isaiah 55:1)
In a very real sense, the gospel is the greatest party invitation of all. And unlike the various (and occasionally bizarre!) celebrations of this present world, God’s kingdom offers a way of satisfying our greatest desires in ways no other experience can duplicate.