Monday, July 16, 2012

Life is a Celebration

Dance  till the stars come down from the rafters
Dance, Dance, Dance till you drop.
~W.H. Auden

            My husband and I both come from families who love to celebrate. Holidays, birthdays, and other special events were always celebrated enthusiastically if not lavishly. I remember attending birthday parties at his house, and vice versa, until we were well into our teens. Since his birthday is close to Halloween, he sometimes had costume parties and we would all come up with the craziest getups imaginable. We both had moms who loved nothing more than to host a good party, complete with amazing food, and dads who would willingly make the mad dash to the grocery store when the punch ran out or cook a hundred hot dogs on the grill for two dozen hungry teenagers. It was part of our lives, as were egg dyeing at Easter and cookie baking at Christmas and explosives on the Fourth of July.

            With this in mind, you can probably imagine our dismay, a few weeks before our daughter’s ninth birthday, when we asked her what kind of party she would like to have and she said, “I don’t know. I never had a birthday party before.”  Seeing our horrified expressions, she quickly added, “Well, once at school I did. My teacher brought in cookies and we played games, and the class made cards for me.”  God bless that teacher, whoever she was. But the idea that a sweet girl like Raina had never been celebrated just for being who she was was, to us, very nearly tragic. So we prepared to go the last mile.

            We had already celebrated our younger daughter’s sixth birthday a few months prior, and none of the children had said a word about this being the first time any of them had had a party. We gave Ally a fairy-princess themed party at a local park, and when my husband asked how many were coming, I was a bit stumped. “Uh-well-I invited a lot of people…”

            “How many?” he demanded.

            “Oh, just all of the kids in her class. And her teacher. And, well, all of the school staff kids and their families, and of course your family and my family, and all the kids from her Sunday school class…but you know they won’t all come.”

            He looked a little sick. “I hope not.”

            I was right. Only thirty children actually showed up, not including our three, and about twenty-five adults. Roughly eighty percent of those we invited, in other words, which was basically the same thing that happened with our wedding and I should have learned my lesson then. But it was grand, that first birthday party we were privileged to give our daughter, with balloons and streamers and a fairy-princess cake and a piñata. The birthday girl wore fairy wings as she opened present after present, and throughout most of the festivities she was quiet, as though she could not quite believe that all of this was for her.

            Raina verbalized that sentiment when she walked into the dining room on the afternoon of her ninth birthday party. She had decided on a horse theme so her dad made a cake with horses on it, and it was displayed proudly on the table along with bags of party favors and a big vase of flowers, with balloons tied to each chair and a giant Happy Birthday banner hanging in the doorway. Her jaw dropped in surprise and she said, “All this for me? For me?” As the party went on (and on and on, since was a sleepover) she kept coming back to us in between activities and hugging us, “Thank, you Mom. Thank you, Dad.”  The next day, her dad took her out to lunch and he said she beamed the entire time , the climax being his presentation to her of a very special pearl necklace to remind her that she  was a pearl of great price.

            Our celebrations still mean a lot to our kids. They look forward with anticipation to all of the holidays and the traditions we have created to go along with them. They don’t really want birthday parties as such anymore, just dinner with the family and then a shopping excursion with a friend or two. They are teenagers and they want clothes, and quite frankly they have figured out that a smaller party means more money to buy such items. But I am not hurt by this. They still appreciate the fact that we recognize and celebrate their special days. It is also a whole lot easier to give them money and let them buy what they want than it is to throw a big birthday party-but I would still do it if they desired.

            Those birthday parties during the first few years we had our kids are such precious memories to me. One year Tony had a backyard campout and the boys built an actual campfire over which they cooked hot dogs and marshmallows. One little guy, while fixing his fourth hot dog, grinned at us and said, “Boy, ya’ll really know how to throw a party!” Another time after one of Raina’s sleepovers, a girl told her father, “Daddy, there was so much fun I can’t remember it all!” I think that may have been the time when one of the games we played involved scooping marshmallows out of a bowl while blindfolded. For weeks afterward, the dog would appear with a marshmallow in her mouth that she had found in an obscure part of the living room.

            I cannot imagine growing up in a family that does not celebrate with abandon every special occasion. Celebrating should come naturally to us as human beings and as Christians. We have every reason to celebrate, for God has blessed us beyond measure. We should all be like Raina, asking in wonder, “All this for me?”  We certainly don’t deserve it. We don’t deserve His mercy and His grace. He took what we really deserved on Himself, when he was nailed to that cross. That in itself is reason to celebrate, to laugh, to dance, to give praise. And so every day should be a festival of joy and a time to give thanks. Jesus performed His first miracle at a wedding feast. I am sure that he enjoyed a good party, that He laughed and danced and sang. I doubt that a somber and scowling Jesus would have attracted many followers!

            We have reason to rejoice-so let’s rejoice! Get out the balloons and the streamers, bring on the cake and ice cream, and celebrate Him-the God from whom all blessings flow.

“For, after all, put it as we may to ourselves, we are all of us from birth to death guests at a table which we did not spread. The sun, the earth, love, friends, our very breath are parts of the banquet.... Shall we think of the day as a chance to come nearer to our Host, and to find out something of Him who has fed us so long?” ~Rebecca Harding Davis

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