My wife and I marked two anniversaries this month. Early in the month, we celebrated our 53rd wedding anniversary; a week ago, we celebrated 20 years since we moved into our new house.
And I wonder why we consider remembering anniversaries so important.
It’s not as if I’m likely to forget that I’m married. After 53 years, I’ve spent far more of my life married than I did single. Being married is ingrained so deeply, now, that I can no longer imagine life in the loose lane.
Nor are either of us likely to forget moving into this house. We had to vacate our Toronto home before our new house in the Okanagan was ready. So we drove across Canada, with two terrified cats and a back seat full of house plants.
I came all the way west to Kelowna and roomed for a month with my friends Ralph and Bev Milton. Joan stayed with her mother in Creston, a day’s drive away.
The day our house was finally ready for us, Joan drove six hours through the mountains on a hot summer day, with the car windows closed to keep frantic cats from leaping out. The house plants travelled well. But both cats got carsick.
Nope, Joan is not likely to forget that day.
Nor am I likely to forget the day our son died.
Or the day we picked up our adopted granddaughter in Ethiopia. Or the day I fell off a wall and smashed my elbow.
I don’t need a note on a fridge calendar to carry a constant awareness of those events with me.
Why, in fact, do we celebrate anniversaries? Like birthdays—especially when we lie about them?
Why, in the Christian church, do we make special events out of Christmas and Easter and a host of lesser days? Ignoring them would not change history. Especially when at least one of those anniversaries—Christmas, the birth of Jesus. Probably didn’t happen when we celebrate it, and almost certainly didn’t happen exactly 2013 years ago.
The timing of Easter and Good Friday are more likely, but are based on a lunar calendar that we abandoned long ago. If accuracy mattered, we should probably link Easter permanently to the Jewish Passover.
And yet we go through those rituals, year after year. In churches, we hold special services. In our personal lives, we give cards and presents. Or go out for dinner. Or just spend a quiet evening together, wrapped in a prayer shawl of memories.
Remembering is not the problem, despite comedy routines built around stereotypes of forgetful husbands and disappointed wives.
I think there’s something more subtle going on. Anniversaries are not just about specific events. They’re about the importance of remembering in general.
Remembering defines us as humans. Our ability to remember, not just the last few days or the last few years, but all the growth and development through history that has made us who and what we are, makes us who and what we are.
So we need anniversaries to remind ourselves that it’s important to keep remembering.