How do we celebrate parties

Celebrations are symbolic, expressive actions that allow conclusions to be drawn about the structure, value system and ideas of the participants. They can be read as elements of a collective construction of meaning, as «texts» or systems of signs, the message of which, however, can only be understood against the background of the respective social, historical or religious context. Celebrations provide a symbolic and therefore intuitively comprehensible interpretation of complex life experiences. There are several different explanations of what festivals and celebrations mean to a society.

Relief and ecstasy
The festival is the social place where spontaneous and emotional behavior is not only allowed but even encouraged. Together you break through the usual conventions, escape the monotony of normalized everyday life with its sometimes stressful experiences. The pressure to act, the planning, the decision-making and the concern for the future fall away from the human being and enable one to become absorbed in the immediate present. There is a moment of ecstasy inherent in the festival, of experiencing supernatural experiences. Ethnologists have reported about the ecstatic raptures at the festivals of the (formerly so-called) "primitive societies", which often lasted for days and sometimes lasted until the participants were extremely exhausted. The French sociologist Emile Durkheim saw the essence of the festival in excess, in the momentary return to the creative chaos of an original time in which man confronts the divine directly and in which the everyday boundaries between what is allowed and what is not allowed are removed. For Durkheim, every festival, even one whose origin is profane, therefore bears the characteristics of a religious ceremony. Happy exuberance, a moment of being over-the-top, cheeky and cheeky comments, physical closeness and touch, at least to some extent, have the character of the ecstatic. Various aids and incentives reinforce this experience: The festive meal, which used to be preceded by a time of saving, storing and collecting food that made the lavish character of the feast possible in the first place, is just as much a part of it as the consumption of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs Music and dance. The furnishing of the festive rooms, the play with light - for example with candles, fireworks or laser cannons -, the decoration with flags and flowers, the unfolding of the greatest possible splendor also have a supporting character. The festival is determined by an atmosphere of looseness, looseness and floating. Its elements serve to facilitate the detachment from the normal state for the people involved and to lead them to a state which, in its pure form, is identical to ecstasy. The mask, which is often used at festivals, serves as a means of this detachment and the removal of personal and social constraints and conventions. Other ways of escaping the burden of life, such as alcohol and drug consumption, target the individual trying to escape the seemingly unbearable reality on their own. The celebration as a collective occasion, on the other hand, not only relieves the individual, but also strengthens the celebrating group as a whole. This by helping her to overcome the conflicts, demarcations and frictions that shape everyday life and to achieve a new awareness of unity and self-worth. Meaningful celebrations At certain festivals, however, the focus is less on the abolition of everyday life and more on awareness and meaning. Such a festival, which is often referred to as a celebration, is always based on an idea or a worldview that is updated by the occasion. The participants are given values ​​and can assure themselves of the goals and purposes of their lives. Contemplation, thoughtfulness and reflection characterize the solemn act and distinguish it from the exuberance of the festival. This form of celebration is always aimed at the foundation of historical continuity, cultural unity and the affirmation of values. It invokes traditions and emphasizes their importance for the present and the future. This solemn festival form, in contrast to the joyful spontaneous festival, is regulated and organized down to the smallest detail. It takes place at certain places and at certain times that are related to the history of the celebrating group or institution: anniversaries and locations of battles, revolutions or peace agreements, birthdays and deaths, dates of founding companies and associations. The central element of the festive occasion is usually the spoken word, the address, delivered with a pathos and emphasis that is alien to everyday language use. Signs, emblems and symbols are part of the decor: images of saints and statues in churches, coats of arms and flags in political organizations, the cake on a birthday. Ritualized processes such as the handing over of flags, city keys or certificates represent the meaning and purpose of the event and the institution in a highly condensed form. With the elegant clothing, sometimes supplemented by the insignia of the office, the participants emphasize the dignity of the event. The character of the dignified and serious is also strengthened by the appropriate music and the walk: During the celebration you don't run or rush; and certainly not strolling through the area, but walking. While the exuberant celebration largely negates the otherwise valid social hierarchies, for example spontaneously speaking, the celebration exaggerates the prevailing social order by even emphasizing the differences in rank through uniforms, badges and official insignia. Personality and position are not dissolved by disguise and mask, but emphasized. The solemn occasion does not cancel everyday life, but ascribes meaning to it and justifies it as meaningful and valuable.

Liberation and turmoil ...
In some epochs and societies certain festivals were and are forbidden because the authorities and the powerful fear them. Because celebrating festivals sometimes develops a liberating force that can lead to turmoil and revolt, even to revolutions. Some festivals serve to abolish social hierarchies, turning them around like the early Carnival. They act as a critique of the existing conditions and evoke the image of a just, perfect, utopian order; they encourage people to let their imagination run wild and dream of a more beautiful and better world. In contrast to the approaches presented above, in which the separation of everyday life and festival as two different areas of reality is seen as constitutive for the meaning of the festival, this interpretation defines the festival neither as a place of freedom from everyday life nor as a form of everyday meaning but as the liberation of everyday life itself. The author and filmmaker Lienhard Wawrzyn formulates this view as follows: "So the festival with an open outcome is a threat to established structures of oppression." Here the festival no longer legitimizes everyday life, on the contrary: the festival becomes the “bad conscience” of everyday social life with all its injustices and demands the realization of a more healthy, ideal society.

... or stabilization of rule?
A fourth perspective adopts this idea of ​​the social power of the festival, albeit with the opposite sign. The festival appears here as an instrument of rule for the politically and economically powerful, as a consciously used valve to reduce social pressure and political dissatisfaction, as a manipulative sedative for the masses and as a consumer-oriented spectacle that remains attached to everyday economic life as a mere superstructure phenomenon and no new areas of experience opens or allows liberating experiences. Sometimes this perspective results in the radical demand either to completely abolish the festival as an institution of discipline and oppression or to transform it - in the sense of minimizing domination - into what it should have been in the past: a place of free self-determination and the fulfillment of needs. If one looks at the various explanations of what festivals mean for a society, from the point of view of which specific occasions they refer to, one observes that every theory picks out specific festivals in order to demonstrate the "true" meaning of them. Ethnologists describe the ecstatic festivals of exotic cultures, theologians ponder religious celebrations, sociologists debate the liberation potential of political manifestations, and historians dissect the manipulative power of court festivals or totalitarian festivities. In reality, however, the models described can only be found as pure forms in borderline cases. At many festivals, festive and solemn moments merge in different ways, liberating and limiting elements are often close together. Depending on the situation, one or the other element is more important, and there are often different explanations for the same festival. Boundaries and delimitation, coercion and anarchy, order and chaos are pairs of opposites that make the festival thrive. Complex events, such as the big federal celebrations of the associations with tens of thousands of participants in Switzerland, are multi-layered structures consisting of a competition part, official celebrations and an entertainment part. The abundance and diversity of the fixed elements contribute significantly to the impression of the overall experience. It is crucial that these elements address various basic sensitivities: solemn, sacred and moving in the ceremonial parts (ceremony, flag handover, speech), tension and self-expression in the competition part and finally exuberance, vitality and conviviality in the entertainment part.

Life as a permanent festival
Just a few decades ago, the opinion was often expressed in research that modern, rational, economically thinking, increasingly secularized and individualized society was losing the ability to celebrate festive exuberance. They replace this with constant consumption, everyday leisure time and individually used vacations, whereby the collective moments of meaning and relief would disappear. Today, conversely, many criticize the incessant hype and worry about the attitude, especially of young people, who allegedly perceive life as a single, endless party. The rhythm of everyday life full of privation and exuberant festivities, of frugality and waste has in fact largely disappeared. Celebrations are integrated into the economic system and are subject to the same rules as everyday life, which in turn is no longer characterized by austerity and renunciation. However, society has not lost the ability to celebrate, but has set new accents: It has brought together economic incentives, consumerism and the search (also for transcendent) experiences and borderline experiences into a dense agenda of festivals and events. A characteristic of this development is that even a banal process like opening a car wash is stylized into hype and experience. There is an increasing importance of festivals and events of all kinds in the cultural policy of cities and regions; a sign that in the post-industrial leisure society, festive occasions have become an essential location factor. An arbitrarily extended festival and event culture is no longer in real contrast to the other spheres of life and therefore does not affect other levels of meaning. For people in traditional societies, the festival represented the greatest possible contrast to everyday life - a reversal or abolition of the normal order and the usual rhythm. The history of the festival marks it as something special. If the event culture becomes so comprehensive, powerful and non-stop that it no longer marks a state of emergency, but appears as part of most people's daily life, the question arises as to whether the essential functions of giving meaning such as switching off, escaping and immersion, ecstasy as well as contemplation can still be fulfilled. The department store, as the cultural sociologist Wolfgang Lipp critically noted, has become “the permanent festival for the little man” (and not just for the little man, one should add - politically correct). A permanent festival, however, is nothing more than the dissolution of the festival, the loss of its meaning and the return of everyday life.