"Celebrating the family" - On the neglected side of family rituals
Department of Sociology University of Évora Évora, Portugal
Family celebrations are sociological constructed as part of family rituals (Wolin e Bennett, 1984; Imber-Black & Roberts, 1992; Pleck, 2000). In spite of the difficulty in answering the question "what is a family celebration?", a review of the scientific literature under this subject suggests that family celebrations are occasions widely practiced throughout the culture and somehow considered "special" in the minds of the family. Characterized as rituals of "low frequency, high rank" (Douglas & Isherwood, 1979), they are highly elaborated, relative rare and generally involve feasts, where "special" foods, objects or gifts are brought up. Those occasions are usually seen as opportunities to meet family members in a "positive" celebration. In fact, most of the time family gatherings are perceived as privileged places where families are constructed. By the sharing of space, time and meaning, families create and reinforce a sense of unity and identity, define boundaries, and enhance stability and belonging feelings. However, because not always family celebrations work as planned or expected, not rarely those same "special" occasions lead participants to experience conflict, anguish, disappointment, exclusion, or simply unhappiness (Gillis, 1996; Coltrane, 1998; Pleck, 2000). Nevertheless, it is precisely this kaleidoscopic nature that emphasizes the sociological challenge of studying family celebrations.
Inspired by and questioning the title of Elizabeth Pleck's book (2000), this paper aims to look at the Portuguese family celebrations, with a special focus on the "other" and somehow neglected side of family rituals. Methodological anchored upon empirical data from in-depth individual interviews carried out in the context of a PhD research (in course), this paper purpose is, in a more specific way, to identify some of the occasions included in the category of "family celebrations" and to discuss their value as celebrative forms of being together. Through an empiric and theoretical analysis of collected data we hope to critically highlight the sociological knowledge of the contemporary families celebrations, discussing the hidden dimensions of "which" family is celebrated, why, how and what actually means "to celebrate" the family.