Why do we humans observe anniversaries?
Each of our lives and personal calendars are marked with reminders of special days to commemorate, some happy, some sad, some life-altering, but all most certainly retrospective.
So why do we repeat these anniversaries, year after year?
That’s a salient question with the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina bearing down on us, but in a much broader frame we mark many dates important to us personally or historically.
Psychologists tell us that such events as Katrina become “trigger points” and a time to collectively share the memories of an event to affirm that the world is still turning. These anniversaries are most importantly a time to reflect on how far we’ve come — or not come — and on how that original event helped shape who we are today.
If you were at least 10, you likely remember what you were doing Nov. 22, 1963, when President Kennedy was assassinated. Or when the space shuttle Challenger exploded on Jan. 28, 1986. Or how the Mississippi Coast smelled of death and decay after Aug. 17, 1969, when Hurricane Camille struck.
Are you old enough to have been at Biloxi Municipal Stadium in 1966 when Dick Clark’s “Where the Action Is” on May 12, followed by James “Godfather of Soul” Brown on Aug. 5, entertained the first racially mixed audiences at a large Coast music venue?
Were you among those cheering the arrival of the first dockside casino, Aug. 1, 1992, making this year the 25th anniversary of legal Coast casinos? Were you watching Super Bowl XLIV on Feb. 7, 2010, when the New Orleans Saints won, uplifting storm-beleaguered Gulf Coast residents who don’t even enjoy football.
Oh, so many memories, both happy and sad. Oh, so many dates to remember.
Most of us observe birthdays, the death date of a beloved friend, wedding anniversaries, the date of a divorce decree and every July Fourth in commemoration of the 1776 signing of the Declaration of Independence. How can anyone alive on Sept. 11, 2001, ever forget the terrorism that changed American attitudes and freedoms?
Locally, to mark our European settlement in February 1699, a Mississippi Coast History Week is held every year, and the city of Ocean Springs later stages a “Landing of D’Iberville” re-enactment. The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art makes a big deal of the Mad Potter’s birthday, and take note that Mississippi has turned its Bicentennial birth date — Dec. 10, 1817 — into a year-long observance.
Just as we remember dreadful Katrina on Aug. 29, 2005, the Japanese mark March 11 for the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused a nuclear power plant disaster and killed 19,000.
For more than 150 years we Americans have observed Thanksgiving as a national November holiday to commemorate Native Americans and Pilgrims sharing a 1621 harvest. Also every November, we commemorate Veterans Day, first observed as Armistice Day to mark the end of World War I on Nov. 11, 1918. And how many of us can shout out “December 7” if asked the 1941 date of the Pearl Harbor bombing that launched the U.S. into World War II?
Oh, so many dates to remember.
What I’ve mentioned here is barely a single ice crystal atop an iceberg of anniversaries. Most of us have scads of world, national, community and personal dates to commemorate. So I ask again, why are these dates so important to us that we observe them over and over and over again?
I don’t pretend to be a trained mind expert, but I do suspect the answer lies in our human need for order out of chaos. Acknowledging eventful dates helps us realize that we are still here, despite or perhaps because of the wondrous and dreadful anniversaries that mark our calendars.
Kat Bergeron, a veteran feature writer specializing in Gulf Coast history and sense of place, is retired from the Sun Herald. She writes the Mississippi Coast Chronicles column as a freelance correspondent. Reach her at BergeronKat@gmail.com or at Southern Possum Tales, P.O. Box 33, Barboursville VA 22923.