Borrowing Pages From the Oktoberfest Playbook
“What you need, my son
Is a holiday in Cambodia
Where people dress in black.”
Those lyrics from the song “Holiday in Cambodia” by the punk rock band Dead Kennedys illustrate how counterintuitive any public holiday display may appear. Without knowing the context, all-black attire may seem odd. Yet, bereft of awareness as to the genesis and evolution of many group celebrations, people mechanically participate.
Take, for example, Oktoberfest. For years, I would mindlessly join the hordes — assembled under the big top — and partake of wursts, sauerkraut, strudels, ciders, beers, and schnapps.
Once, a business trip placed me in Düsseldorf, Germany, coinciding with Oktoberfest. During an evening out celebrating the event, I sheepishly admitted to my host that I had no clue what we were festive over. He proudly offered that it was to honor Bavarian beer brewing.
As it turns out, the origin of Oktoberfest goes back to 1810 and is rooted in a horse race. The equine competition was the concluding element of a royal family nuptial party. Over time, the horse race was replaced in favor of other amusement options. The one constant has been the beer consumption. Perhaps this was the source of my business partner’s misunderstanding.
Envision the Kentucky Derby morphing in a similarly rogue manner, until it spans more than two weeks in May. Who needs a race when the best mint juleps in the land are to be had? That’s Oktoberfest.
Despite obscure and imprecise beginnings sometimes cloaked in mystery, some circumstances produce larger-than-life remembrance. The passage of time only serves to heighten the anniversary fervor.
Believed to have origins dating to the third century, Valentine’s Day may be in honor of one of three martyred Catholic saints, or it may have been instituted to counter a pagan ritual. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that the day came to have romantic undertones. By the mid-18th century, tokens of affection were commonly exchanged. Today, it represents a nearly $22 billion market in the United States alone.
Unlikely catalysts may assist in moving an otherwise floundering holiday’s popularity needle. Festivus, a celebration to rebel against the commercial trappings of the Christmas season, gained internet traction — and a measure of notoriety — after being featured in an episode of the classic sitcom “Seinfeld.”
There is a preponderance of “wannabe” important celebrations-in-waiting. Every calendar day has multiple assigned designations. A random selection of May 4 yields 10, including “Intergalactic Star Wars Day (May the Fourth Be With You)” and “International Respect for Chickens Day.” It begs the question: What came first, the chicken or the ET?
Of course, ALS has its “own” awareness month. However, we share May with more than 20 diseases and health conditions. That fact got me yearning for — and in turn, visualizing — some sort of ALS “day.”
It’s been said that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Using that premise — in a play on words sort of way — All Saints’ Day sprang to mind. Title-wise, it would only require a tiny modification.
The new fete would be dubbed “ALS Ain’ts Day.” It would memorialize all of the functions that, courtesy of ALS, we ain’t able to perform any longer. Toasts to unlabored breathing, the lively art of conversation, and other vanished abilities would rule the day. A guest member from Monty Python’s “Ministry of Silly Walks” could be the honorary presiding officer.
Another new holiday option, based on mimicry, might be to create the “12 Days of Never.” Ranked in increasing improbability, it would culminate in “The Twelfth of Never,” the day that a cure for ALS is found. The other 11 days would be populated with lesser long shots. Among the candidates might be winning a record payout in Powerball, Charlie Brown kicking a field goal with Lucy holding the football, or congressional nonpolarity.
I suppose the Oktoberfest model is the most worthy of emulation. Perhaps a race is the appropriate way to jump-start the institutionalization of a holiday. But not a horse race.
It has to be more emblematic. Maybe an obstacle-laden steeplechase on power wheelchairs would do. Alternatively, a 10-meter rollator stumble might be suitable. And there’s always the ever-popular floor crawl to consider. Or all three could be held. Imagine the “Pick 3″ wagering possibilities!
Regardless, the event’s name can be tied to a month. If it were held during ALS Awareness Month, it could be called “Muscle MAY-laise Fest.” Obviously, the celebration’s popularity will be driven by the common acknowledgement that ALS sufferers have the best beverage thickeners.
Like in Cambodia, or for St. Patrick’s Day, a dress code will emerge. It will be based on the transparency with which ALS selects its victims, progresses, and is understood.
“It’s a holiday in ALS Land, where people dress in camouflage!”
Note: ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ALS News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.