Jun
15
2015

We Like to Party! – Celebrations in Milieu

As a rule, humanity will find just about any excuse to party. Sometimes we commemorate moments in our national, religious, or cultural history with solemn ceremony and pageantry. Other festivals spawn mass debauchery that shuts down an entire city for days. Whether personal or public, intimate or grand, quiet or out of control, celebration is a critical part of a culture and therefore milieu.

Celebrations aren’t just a superficial aspect of a culture, but rather they often reveal the pillars of the society. They are, by definition, a societal statement of value. Take as an example a celebration whose roots stretch back over a millennium. The Japanese celebration of Hanami, known as the Cherry Blossom Festival in the west, is a focus of anticipation each spring. The Japanese national weather bureau closely monitors and announces the “blossom forecast,” predicting when the blossoms will bloom in each area of the country. The celebration centers on observing the beauty of the blossoms through picnics and sake drinking. In so doing, the Japanese show their reverence of the beauty of nature, an aspect that has inspired their art and poetry through the culture’s history. In 1912, the Japanese government gifted the United States with 3,000 cherry blossom trees, which were then planted in Washington DC. By doing so, they also transplanted an appreciation for the beauty of the blossoms and created an echo of Hanami in cities across the United States.

Additionally, the nature of celebrations rarely remains static over the course of generations. As an example, the Romans held grand triumph parades and days of feasting and blood games to celebrate the victories of their military leaders. Slowly, the focus of the celebration shifted from the glorification of Rome to the glorification of the individual, a trend that eventually lead to the power of the Caesars and prompted the satirical poet Juvenal to comment that, “[the people] now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.” Though these festivities may have started as a means of bolstering national pride and commemorating victory, they ultimately became spectacles of mass promotion that were then translated into personal political power.

Celebration is a mark of culture and therefore an essential part of any milieu. As writers, we need to keep this in mind as we grow our worlds. As most cultures begin with agrarian settlements, the local natural and agricultural setting will often dominate early celebrations. However, as the society urbanizes and experiences moments of crisis and glory, days of particular historical significance will work their way into the culture’s annual calendar. However, these celebrations evolve along with the culture that birthed them. Even in isolation, festivals and holidays transform to suit the needs and tastes of the modern citizen. However, this process is vastly accelerated as the culture interacts with the greater world. After all, as people trade their goods in international markets, they also exchange elements of their cultural identity.

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