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Reflecting on Yearly Observances

October 10th, 2012 · Posted by Hugo · 1 Comment

What is an anniversary? It really is a rather arbitrary day, a day like any other, except that the stars are more or less in the same place as they were when the remembered event occurred. Or the earth has returned to the same place in its rotation around the sun.

Depending on the calendar you use, your anniversaries could even be shifting relative to our astronomical frame of reference. On a lunar calendar, you would be drifting a full 11 to 12 days on every trip around the sun. (Lunar calendars were commonly used in antiquity, but are still in use for determining traditional holidays in various parts of Asia, as well as for the Islamic calendar.)

I’m actually trying to argue that any day is really just like every other. Except, we have chosen to imbue some days with a special significance, on a yearly cycle: public holidays, birthdays, new years’…

Once a year is infrequent enough that repeated traditions don’t bore us and additional responsibilities are manageable: whether it be clinking champagne glasses on New Years’, throwing a birthday party, hunting for an anniversary gift, or filling out tax forms.

On this blog I’ve chosen to observe a 10 October tradition: I write something every 10 October. (Sometimes I’m a bit late, publishing on the 11th, but then I tweak the publishing timestamp a bit. :P) Since this post ponders this observance of mine, I need to explain what inspired it: this day is the day my father died, now 18 years ago. My mother was also cremated on this day, one year ago, having died on 28 September. Consequently, two weeks ago I wrote what could become the first of my yearly 28 September posts.

The possibility of adding a second special day for this blog made me think about the whole idea, which is of course what sparked this post. Why do I do it, exactly? Why do I try to write something every year? It isn’t the kind of thing that has a “rationally good reason”, of course. It is simply something that I chose to do. That I choose to do. A decision I made in 2007 and that I’ve been sticking with every year. Who knows for how long I will continue to do so.

Through the years I have also learned of other cultures with other approaches to remembering loved ones. The first tiny cultural difference that I noticed between myself and at least one other person I know: some people give considerably more attention to birthdays than I do. This made me consider this thought: might placing more emphasis on the day someone was born, instead of the day they died, help you to focus on appreciating the life they lived, rather than on resenting the fact that they are no longer there? Not necessarily, certainly, but something I would like to keep in mind. Better to place more emphasis on remembering someone’s life, rather than resenting the fact that they are no longer there. (This theme lends itself to plenty of development in further thought.)

A second cultural difference is as huge as the first is small: some cultures go to lengths to not remember. I find that remarkable. I suspect as someone that didn’t grow up near such a culture, I’ll never fully grasp the value and purpose of such a tradition. It certainly was another catalyst for reflection on the choice to have a yearly observance. Somehow I feel it simultaneously points out both the “arbitrary” nature of this choice, and the significance and importance of this choice. Arbitrary in the objective sense (a culture might as well have been different). Significant and important in the subjective sense (such traditions become an integral part of our tribal identity).

We are human after all.

Categories: Culture

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Evamaria // Oct 11, 2012 at 10:20 am

    I love birthdays – and already at my father’s funeral I suggested to some of my relatives that I’d like to do something on his birthday next May.

    It does seem more positive to observe the day someone was born, which has so many good memories tied to it, rather than the day they died. Although I’m sure July 24/25 (he died at 1am in the morning) will have significance to me as well, that will be a much sadder occasion.

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