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Celebrating the spring equinox

About two weeks ago it was the spring equinox. To celebrate that a friend came over for a visit. The night before the equinox we lit a fire at my yard. We stayed up all night, constantly adding wood into the fire, wearing warm clothes, eating snacks and chatting merrily. As we noticed first hints of the morning dusk, we opened a bottle of sparkly wine, slowly emptying it and watching the stars fade away giving way to the growing sunlight. Seen from my yard the horizon is a bit obscured by neighbouring woods, but eventually we could see the Sun in between the trees. Welcome Spring! From now on the days will be longer than the nights! As the Sun climbed higher, we crawled to beds and quickly fell asleep.

As I'm writing this is is Easter. Even though the Finnish cultural traditions are a lot based on Christianity, for some reason here the Christmas appears to be the main celebration. (The major form of Christianity here is Protestant Lutheranism. One notable minority is Eastern Orthodox Church, and for them the Easter clearly is the main event of the year. Which, to me, seems perfectly understandable given that the events at Easter are at the core of Christian faith.) What comes to faith and religion, I tend to be something like a benevolent agnostic. I can't prove one religion right and the other wrong, and after all, why should I? I mean, what customs and traditions my neighbours follow, or what religious things they believe in, I don't have to bother with it - I let them behave the way they do, and I expect them to allow me to be myself. For me questions regarding the death and possible afterlife, they just don't mean that much to me. Or, I think I'm not interested in any prospect of eternal life, for I'm perfectly happy with the idea of merely vanishing away when I die. Therefore, for me celebrating Easter feels a bit like celebrating a victory of a particular English football team - I don't follow sports, so I'm not interested in who wins, but I can understand the celebrations of those who support that particual team.

Then what about just dropping the religious content and celebrating the Easter in a secular fashion? I don't know if this is elsewhere also or spesific to Finland, but there is this habit of kids dressing up as little witches, wielding willow branches decorated with feathers - and the week before Easter they go from door to door, waving a branch in the air humming an age old rhyme wishing health and good luck for the person. Then they hand the branch to the person and receive a small gift, usually Easter eggs and other candy. (The wikipedia says that the habit comes from the Eastern Orthodox Church, and in Finland it spread all over the country in the post-war years. Although, the Orthodox habit didn't include dressing up as a witch, so seems like as the habit spread it picked up new influences. I'd guess this is what happens to traditions everywhere, as they spread, blend and evolve.) Well, but I'm not a kid anymore, and no kids dressed up as witches came knocking on my door.

The other Easter traditions here are probably more general. The Easter eggs and colourful candy. Yellow colours, chicks and bunnies. And typical decorations are willow branches in a flower vase, and grass seeds sown on a plate so that they'll grow vigorous green at the time of Easter. These, to me, seem a lot like the generic symbols of the spring, celebrating the new life after the long cold dark winter. But, for some reason, personally I don't feel a special need for seasonal decorations. The growing amount of daylight in itself is enough to make this time of the year feel special.

Well, but on a more general level, I think that traditionally one central purpose of annual celebrations is to signify tribe membership. Again, if we imagine the dawn of the mankind, all those tens of thousands of years we spent as roaming packs of hunter-gatherers, I'd guess those tribes had their traditions, rituals and annual celebrations. Special occasions, where all the possible disagreements are put aside and all the tribe members gather together to attend. And as the habits associated with these yearly celebrations got passed from a generation to another it becomes a tradition. Even though in the 21st century few of us are still members of a small roaming pack of hunter-gatherers, seems like we still pretty much carry a lot of cultural heritage from those times. For example, 40 days after Easter there will be the Feast of the Ascension, and in Finland it is a national holiday. 40 days from Easter always means that it is Thursday. Not that many employers like the idea of having a national holiday on Thursday, so a while ago it was suggested that the festival to be relocated to the nearest Saturday (so that the employers don't have to grand a day off for their workers in the middle of a week). Well, in Finland that day is called Helatorstai, and not that many people are sure what it means, or why it is a national holiday. So, for most of the people it is just an extra day-off, hardly anyone goes to church on that day to hear what the day is about. And, officially, the Church doesn't wield political power in Finland, so why stick to the definition of exact 40 days from Easter? If the Feast of Ascenssion would take place the following weekend, then those who see religious significance of the day can anyway celebrate it for it is weekend, and the rest of the society won't have to bother. Well, but the Church opposed this suggestion strongly, and one of their main arguments was that "if we'd celebrate the Feast of the Ascension on a different day that would set us apart from the community of other Christian countries, like our neighbouring Nordic countries who all celebrate the Feast of Ascension on the exact 40 days after Easter!"

Psychologically speaking, I can understand the point: If we don't celebrate while the others do, that will make us appear and feel as outsiders. But I'm not that sure if the opposite is true. I mean, if the majority of workforce is barely vaguely aware of why they have a day off, then how it helps them feel unified and connected with their fellow workers in neighbouring countries? Somehow I'd guess that to achieve that unifying function there should be some substance to the celebrations, some common activity you engage in, knowing that the other people are doing the same. Yet, I'm not so sure how well these ancient tribal rituals work when the group size grows bigger, when there are more people than physically fits dancing around a single bonfire. I can understand how it helps feel unity with your fellow people when you are rallying together around a same big fire - but do you feel same kind of bonding with people who you know are dancing around other fires in other places at the same time? I really don't know, for personally I'm not that familiar with these phenomens and how they feel. Ah, but speaking of that; this dancing around a bonfire isn't a mere metaphor. Some of the elder local people have told me that when they were young, at Helatorstai young folks would gather, start a bonfire and sing and dance around it. (Again, to me that seems a lot like an ancient pagan tradition which just has survived and adapted under the context of Christian culture). I haven't heard about anyone doing it any more, but I wouldn't be surprised if in some corner of the Finnish countryside people still do it.

For the sake of clarity, let me say that in no way I'm against Christian traditions. It is just that personally I prefer not to attend traditions which I don't feel meaningful for me. And very few traditions do =) I don't celebrate the New Year, nor the First of May (they are both big in Finland). I don't care if a Finnish team of athlete wins a competition. I seldom celebrate my own birthday. For I prefer spontaneous little things.

When I was living in a nearby 'hippie collective' (ten years ago), people there wanted to revive some annual pagan celebrations. Like the ritual of blessing the soil when the growing season begins. And then the celebrations when everything is harvested. I always felt myself alien to those celebrations - probably because I didn't personally take part in the gardening, and after all most of the time we were eating food bought from the supermarket so gardening only had a very minor contribution to our livelihood. Yet those celebrations were popular, drawing like-minded people from around the country. Which made me feel even more alienated, like 'why are we celebrating harvest with these people who didn't work a single day in the garden?'. The way I see it, if we want to revive traditions we can't just cherry-pick some little aspects from here and there, for it is better to understand the context and connections of things. And I think the context of a celebration is the work - you have a festival before starting an intense period of work, and you have another festival when that work is completed. So, if that work is only minimal, then what reason there is for a celebration? Oh, yes, I know - I'm taking this too serious. For the celebrations at our collective were more about a meeting of friends, with a little decorations connecting them with the past of the ancestors. Nothing wrong with that, if you see it that way. So, to critically review my own arguments, maybe a more honest account would be to say that at those times I was still severely depressed and strongly introvert, and often felt uncomfortable in company of other people. So that made me feel uneasy about the celebrations, and then all the rational explanations are just pale attempts to make my own emotions seem somehow legitimate and justified =) So, in order not to argue with the fellow community members if we should have those celebrations or not, I just packed my stuff and moved to a semi-hermit house of my own.

Yet, I think there is a genuine philosophical and psychological question hiding here. First, an example which also comes from my years of living in the hippie collective. Once we were watching a document about the Freetown Christiania. There was a scene from a local day-care center, and we saw kids merrily singing songs about how they are proud and happy to live in Christiania. My own instant reaction was "Oh that is indoctrination! Brain-washing!". Then they interviewed the personnel, who explained how it is good and healthy to have a sense of belonging, to grow up with an emotional bond and appreciation towards the place where you live. So, what to think about this? Once again, at least it seems that the opposite is true. If you feel disconnected, rejected and alienated by your surroundings it isn't probably that healthy. But then, what if one day those kids grow up wanting to leave Christiania, or wanting to change some of the local things? Will it then be hard for them to do so, if deep down in their heart they have this strong feeling of oh but I belong to Christiania, and I'm supposed to love it the way it is!. Is the goal of upbringing to raise a next generation of good members of the tribe, or to raise rational human beings who want to think critically? Does rational and critical thinking necessarily mean not-to-have-emotional-bonds?

In a way, I think that is a pseudo-dilemma, based on a supposition/idea/model LH: "If you love X, you denend X. If you attack X, it is because you hate X". (As a side note: when I was a kid, we sometimes tried to amuse ourselves on long car rides by choosing a car colour and then counting how many cars of that colour we could spot. Now, I think this could make a similar kind of internet past-time. Browse the net. You get a point every time you spot a person operating based on model LH. The downside is that after a little practice this game quickly becomes boring, for you gain points so quickly that it isn't amusing any more.) Now, if we apply some good old rational thought to the model LH I'd guess it will be rather easy to see that it is not necessarily true, and by no means the only option available. Actually, an alternative model LF appears more attractive: "If you love X, you take care of it, and if you see something wrong with X you seek ways to fix it." This way, you can both have the emotional bind saying "X is good, I love X!" and feel comfortable about re-evaluating the workings of X and seeking for improvements where needed.

But what comes to a more spesific sense of tribe membership - the sense of belonging to a named group - that I really can't say about. Personally, I feel that I do have a sense of belonging, and that I identify myself as belonging to something greater. I primarily identify myself as a member of the ecosystem of the Planet Earth. And deep down somewhere I'm aware of the Planet Earth being just an another temporary wave in the endless dance of the Great Universe, That-Which-Is-All-That-There-Is. In my eyes national identities are bit like being a fan of this or that football team. Sure, I can understand how it gives a lot of emotional content for those who like to cheer their team - but to start fights and wars because of that? Seems somewhat childish to me. I don't know - maybe it also is that because I've anyway always felt myself somewhat apart from the mainstream society, it feels more honest for me not to participate in those celebrations which are often taken as affirmations of belonging to that particular tradition. But I feel connected with the Planet, so it makes sense to celebrate a turning point of the year, together with close friends. Or, at least, this Spring Equinox it felt like it makes sense to celebrate it. I'm not good at set dates and repeated traditions =) It might be that the next year I happen to pass the Equinox celebrations and just wake up some random morning feeling like Hey it is party today to celebrate Life!.

Somehow, I feel that a group membership is not the only way to be connected to other people. Instead of trying to analyze this I quote Henna Hietamäki from the band Cats of Transnistria: "Making music for me is a way of staying alive. It brings me comfort in times of desperation and it connects me to other people in a way I feel is sacred and mystic. This is where our debut album’s name ‘Divine’ comes from. (in a recent interview)". Indeed. Somehow, having Easter decorations alone at my home wouldn't make me feel connected with other people. But dancing alone to music playing from a vinyl - that often does. And sometimes I go to live gigs to dance together with other people =) I don't experience it as a "we, the fans of this band"-sense of belonging, but more like that kind of sacred and mystic sense of "just being connected" as Henna mentions.

spending the night by the fire
the dawn
the remains of the fire
The sun !
tags: 
depression
diary
folklore
music
philosophy
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Comments

Just beautifully put. Thanks Erkka, for writing this post which I relate a lot with!

=)

Thank you for this Erkka! I have always felt as you do about group celebrations and religious holidays and the like. I do love drawing parallels to the stories: rebirth, cycles of change, etc. Recently, I've been interested in that feeling of belonging, and wondering why, if I believe that I am a vibration in a field of vibration and everything is One, do I wish that many people would just stay over there? So I've been practicing the idea of seeing the divinity in each being, the way I see it in trees and dogs. It brings me back to the veil through which I see the world, this veil of my history and preferences. What would it be like to let it go and just see each being I encounter purely equal, purely divine as me? Well, anyway, I'm working on it. :) All the best! Clem

Clementine

Oh the sense of belonging - and the veil of preferences! I suspect there is an internal connection between these two, for a deep sense of belonging is based on unconditional (mutual) acceptance. Oh well, remembering to remember, that might be the way =)

I hope to write more on these topics in the blog posts to come.

This blog is quite comfy. The best part is how it transports the reader from his or her chair into the middle of the trees.

Erkka, I'd like to know if you have written in the past about your relationship with Samy. How did you met him or how do you design/develop UW. I think you are both quite particular, and reading about you two would be a good reading.

Hello!

Ah, I think the story of how Sami and me met, that has been mentioned various times on the game forums etc. But, sure, one of these days I'll write that story in the blog as well =)

What comes to the game development and related thoughts, they are scattered over here and there. For example, see this blog post, and this interview.

Thanks, I really like these posts. I will read them tonight.

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