Super Celebrations: Western Culture Parties On

I walked into the local grocery store the other day and was stopped in my tracks by the vision of a 15-foot wall of hot dog buns, soda cans, and potato chips.

This massive display of edibles was the Super Bowl "Party Display" — which, I might add, had just replaced the Christmas Holiday Treat Hut at the same store, which in turn had replaced the Thanksgiving Day Cornucopia of Foods and the former Halloween Candy Castle.

I love it.

Finally, this culture has started to live from party to party, festival to festival.

I’ve been waiting for this more continuous celebratory schedule ever since I spent time on the island of Bali in Indonesia.

The Balinese are either preparing for a festival, in the middle of a festival, or cleaning up after a festival. No matter when you visit, some celebration is bound to be in full swing somewhere on that island.

For example, there are house temple openings, community temple anniversaries, baby’s three month touch-the-ground parties, and the usual spate of birthdays, weddings and funerals to which everyone is invited.

In fact, all of Balinese culture seems to throb with the anticipation of periodic parties. Even their architecture begs for it. Houses and temples are rather bare and dull until the decorations arrive and people in costume file in.

I once stayed at a bland-looking guest house and then one day a bevy of women arrived and started weaving palm fronds and pig intestine into fanciful decorations. The next day, bright red and purple umbrellas with gold fringe adorned the inner courtyard. Soon, a line of women dressed in pink sarongs and balancing towering plates of colorful fruits on their heads arrived. After them came musicians all dressed up and carrying bright bass instruments of the gamelan orchestra.

Suddenly my normally sedate guest house was vibrating with color, prayer, music, dancing, talk, and food,

And, to my great joy, I was invited to the celebration as long as dressed in traditional costume and brought the token gift of a bag of sugar.

During my stay I showed up uninvited but welcome at several of these parties, including the reception for a wedding of people I didn't know and the lively funeral of someone way across the island. Many of these venues involved prayer, of course, but that, too, was done in a celebratory way.

This cycle of festivals is so much part of Balinese culture that everyone, simply everyone, has another life connected to revelry. The taxi driver is an accomplished dancer. The man selling souvenirs in the square is a gamelan orchestral master. The woman cleaning the hotel room is an expert at carving fruit into complex shapes.

And that's because festivals, the Balinese know, are the real meaning of life, and the best the way to connect with friends, express spirituality, and eat really well..

The good news is that Western culture, lead by consumer marketing, seems to be heading down the same road of continuous festivals. December is surely party month, and we seem to have a holiday in every single month of the year now, but we need to take it even further.

Like the Balinese, let's put celebrations first and work second. Surely this culture could use more wild music, more dancing, more costumes, and lots more decorations.

Why wait for halftime?

Meredith F. Small is an anthropologist at Cornell University. She is also the author of "Our Babies, Ourselves; How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent" (link) and "The Culture of Our Discontent; Beyond the Medical Model of Mental Illness" (link).