My wife and I will attend two weddings this summer; one for friends and one for family. This week I noticed one of the brides-to-be on Facebook, requesting “songs you want to hear/dance-to at the reception”. Clever girl, making sure her guests have a say in the music. My guess is – whether requested or not – the deejay will find room for Kool & The Gang’s enduring party anthem, “Celebration”. It’s as timeless now as it was when we first heard it in 1980. And ce–lah–brate-ing good times is as timeless at weddings as it is for the passing of a loved one.
Plucked from another section of the significant-life-events portfolio, my wife and I attended a Celebration of Life this past weekend, for my uncle (my dad’s twin brother). I label two aspects of my uncle’s passing as “merciful”: 1) He was weakened by a heart condition over the last three years of his life; and 2) One or two of his family members were not available for an immediate memorial. Because of the first aspect, the extended family had plenty of time to make peace with my uncle’s eventual passing. Because of the second aspect, what may have been a funeral became a celebration of life instead.
No need to vote on this topic. Whenever circumstances permit, choose Celebration of Life over Funeral. Funerals lean to the shock and mourning of a life lost – somber affairs are they. Celebrations of Life revel in the happy memories of one life, and the joy brought to countless others. Such was the case with my uncle. His celebration included a church service, hymns, and a homily (given by the “celebrant”, of course), but what moved me to my core – and what I couldn’t get enough of – were the stories shared by my cousins (my uncle’s children) and my father (his brother). Those memories included things I never knew about my uncle, such as his talent as a cartoonist and his childlike demeanor with his grandchildren. I’m even more inspired by the man than I already was.
My uncle’s celebration moved on from the church to a beautiful setting by the San Francisco Bay, where drinks, lunch, photos and memories were shared for several hours. It was as much a family reunion as a celebration, and my uncle wouldn’t have had it any other way. Before he passed, he let it be known we should make merry instead of mourn. And so, …There was a party goin’ on right there; a celebration to last throughout the years.
Whether we celebrate births or birthdays, weddings or wedding anniversaries, Sunday Mass or Christ-mas, we get a healthy dose of festive occasions in our lifetimes. Perhaps that’s why we’ve come up with so many words to describe them. Merriam-Webster published one such list here, including Bash (America’s melding of “bang” and “smash”, somehow maturing into “party”); Blast (surely inspired by loud musical instruments and champagne bottles); Rave (actually inspired by a Middle-Ages term for “acts of madness”); Blowout (once defined as a “one-off indulgence”; somehow morphed into “major festive occasion”), and finally my favorite – Wingding (once “feigned seizures”, now “wild partying”).
But enough digression. Well, almost enough. My nod to all things “celebration” wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the town in Florida by the same name. Developed by Disney as a utopian master-planned unincorporated community “created from scratch”, and “a town worthy of its brand and legacy”, Celebration was/is Disney’s nod to New Urbanism: development based on the small towns of early America, with compact downtowns, “walkable” streets, diverse housing stock, and plentiful public spaces. Celebration doesn’t even consider itself a town, preferring instead the label of community, as in “strong spirit, and desire for friendship with neighbors”. Sounds like a festive gathering to me!
There will be many more celebrations of life before the one that has my own name on it. I’m okay with that. Celebrations of life are a unique blend of revel and revere, partying and paying respects – the dual reasons we raise our glasses to someone’s name. Just be sure it’s a party. As Kool & The Gang puts it: We’re gonna have a good time tonight… Let’s celebrate… It’s all right.