I am learning how to celebrate. Moments ago, Portugal beat England in a nail-biting playoff for the 2004 Euro Soccer Cup. The clock reads 11:01 pm. Outside, my small Portuguese town has erupted into cheers and car-horn beeping and seemingly unending exhilaration. This sort of celebration is as foreign to my ears as the Portuguese language. It is the sort of celebration that makes children run out into the square, waving (horrendously oversized) red and green national flags. It is the sort that pushes entire families into the kitchen window, just to shout "Por! tu! gal!" at all those who passed by. It is the sort that causes grown men to run out to their cars, only to drive around town honking the horn in wild excitement. (Knowing full well that to fill his tank with gas, it will cost him no less than 50 Euros, or about $60.)
And still, it is the sort of celebration that causes an American like me to run into the kitchen to grab something, anything (pots and pans? yes, perfect) to make noise and join in. It seems natural to stand on the porch and cheer. There is a sense of community in celebration. And somehow, though I am only a foreigner—living in Portugal for just over a year—I feel an equal part of tonight’s national joy. The nightlong shouts, the car beeping, the clanking of pots and pans: it feels so good to join in. There is a mysterious togetherness here.
After thirty-minutes of overtime, and into the final shoot-off, someone watching the game remarked, "This is more emotional than war."
"Couldn’t all wars be fought this way?"
"I think some wars start this way."
Europeans and their football; it is nearly unexplainable to even the most avid American sports fan. I remember the night when my Dad’s football team won the Super bowl. He insisted on going outside and singing Queen’s "We are the Champions," to all of our not-quite-celebrating neighbors. As a kid, I was horrendously embarrassed, but still, I was proud of his instinctive celebration. I was puzzled by it, but something about his instinct seemed natural, and right.
And I wonder: why don’t we celebrate this heartily in the Church? Have we lost the ability to authentically celebrate? Are we afraid of what people will think? Or is it that we’ve been told that real celebration walks a too-close line with the world, and all her self-consumed revelry?
When I think of celebration, I think of too-loud music, of dancing and of laughing. I think of being with family and of community. I think of glasses raised in toasts. I think of comfort. I think of sometimes-wild enjoyment, and freedom. I think of children playing and colorful streamers and camera-flashes. So many of my finest memories have been within the context of this-or-that special occasion when we all had some reasonable reason to celebrate.
I am beginning to think that I am just sick of reasoning. Something deep in me just wants to celebrate. And I want to celebrate simple things, like the coming of summer. Or things like new relationships and new lessons learned. I want to celebrate the arrival of a new season of life, or the passing of a painful, weary season. I want to celebrate when a simple prayer is answered. I need that sort of demonstrative gratitude. I would like celebration and gratitude to be as natural as my complaints and cynicism. I want to celebrate as an instinctive response to life and to God. As if to say, "Well now, of course I am celebrating. Why aren’t you? Are you too tired, now?"
Clearly, my Portuguese neighbors are not tired of celebrating. It is now 1:47 a.m., and the car horns are still beeping. This country is a nice home for me, even if its sports culture puzzles me so. I desperately need to learn how to celebrate unabashedly.
What keeps me from dancing in the square, like the little girl and her giant flag? What am I afraid of, really? Well, for now, I think I will lay my questions aside, and just join in with my neighbors. I could stand to learn a thing or two from the proud Portuguese, and their tireless celebration.[Jenelle D’Alessandro is twenty-four and dreams of learning the drums and being in a cute rock band. Today she is an intern with Young Life International, working with English-speaking students in Europe.]
READ MORE LIFE | POST COMMENTS BELOW