Back when I was a teenager who’d just learned how to generalize the concept of Trying To Optimize Things, I found the concept of holidays somewhat silly. Surely, I thought, if a celebratory activity is fun or otherwise valuable enough to be worth doing at all, it’s worth doing always, rather than constraining it to one day a year. Surely, I thought, if a celebratory activity isn’t fun or otherwise valuable enough to be worth doing normally, it’s not worth doing during specialized holidays, either. And surely, I thought, even for those activities which are expensive enough or low-demand enough that it does make sense to do them relatively infrequently—expensive fireworks shows, for instance, or elections—it’s better to do them whenever it makes sense given the specific logistics of the limits they’re under, rather than pinning them to the calendar in any sort of strict fashion.

There’s a sense in which I still partially agree with my past self. There are many holiday activities, like wearing costumes on Halloween, that I’d find it valuable to disperse more widely throughout the year. (And, indeed, I struggle somewhat with finding costumes to wear for Halloween, nowadays, because I wear Whatever I Want all year round now and thus lack the “wear something I want to wear but couldn’t usually bring myself to for expected-social-disapproval reasons” angle of costume-selection which makes it easy for many others.) And there are many other holiday activities, like fasting on the various Jewish fast days I grew up with, which I find valueless enough that I don’t bother with them even during the holidays where they’re the Official Means Of Celebration.

But, looking back, my past self was looking at things through the wrong frame. The value of holidays isn’t specifically in doing things which are fun or otherwise valuable, but rather in doing things which shake oneself out of one’s usual life-pattern temporarily. Breaking from one’s standard daily routines, and thus getting the chance to notice flaws in those routines or opportunities for improvement, in a way which would be actively impeded were the celebratory activities to be made common enough for people’s standard routines to start factoring them in. The fun is just the hook to get people willing to take breaks from their usual patterns in order to participate in those routine-breaks.

Because there’s a large class of traps one can fall into wherein one has routines, these routines are bad (or at least less-good-than-available-alternatives) for achieving one’s goals, but the nature of the routines is such that it’s hard to notice the availability of whatever less-bad alternatives might exist. Having a dedicated day for “go do something weird and off-routine”, then, serves as a way to ensure that one has the chance to step out of whatever tunnel-vision one’s normal routines might inflict. A chance to rest and relax, if otherwise in a state of permanent exhaustion, or to do something intense-and-tiring, if otherwise not doing much; a chance to spend time hanging out with crowds, or with small groups of people, or alone, if one usually doesn’t get the chance for one or more of those activities; a chance to spend time outdoors, if usually inside, or to spend time inside, if usually outdoors; et cetera.

(These are, to be clear, not intended as an example of routine-breaking things that it would make sense to compress together into a single holiday, but rather as examples of things that would make sense to try to cover within the space of a properly-diverse collection of holidays.)

More specifically, then: a well-designed holiday should involve activities which are fun or otherwise fulfilling and worthwhile-feeling for most people—in order to drive people to participate—but which are not part of most people’s normal routines and not easy to integrate into said routines, in order to help give people the sort of out-of-routine experiences that might help them catch potential improvements to their routines. And then there should be sufficiently many different well-designed holidays that, even taking into account that any given person is likely to find some of the holidays unfun-and-thus-skippable and to find some of the holidays’ activities to fall within their normal routines, most people will still end up getting a nonzero number of properly-routine-breaking holiday experiences per year.

Not all holidays are well-designed, by this standard. America has several interchangeable holidays whose primary means of celebration is “do a barbecue”, for instance, and several more which don’t really have any standard celebrations at all beyond “take the day off work” and/or “do some sort of party maybe”, which would benefit a lot from more differentiation than they’ve currently got. But many holidays are well-designed, by this standard. So I no longer dismiss the value of holidays so much, nowadays. They’ve got room for improvement, sure—some holidays would benefit from the addition of more distinctive and/or more enjoyable celebration-patterns, and some days which currently aren’t holidays would probably benefit from being turned into holidays—but the general idea is sound, nonetheless.


#yes this #but also‚ dedicated routine-breaking days serve as a *meta*-routine #a way to give rhythm to the passage of time #I’ve had to skip or reschedule so many holidays these past few years because of resource constraints and it’s awful to be so unmoored #(originally I was going to reblog this on Boxing Day) #(during the time I would normally have spent exploring the mall together with my mom but which we could not afford this year) #(but I was not really feeling up to talking) #(however‚ this week we celebrated my mother’s birthday late because everyone else was working that day) #(so this seems like another fitting time to bring it out) #((*could* we have arranged to take the day off? yes. but loss of wages is its own punishment.)) #time #tag rambles #adventures in human capitalism #is the blue I see the same as the blue you see

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