Those who like to malign the sad state the world’s in (and who doesn’t? It’s pretty much everyone’s favorite pastime) often complain that we’re so plugged in to our computers that we’re cut off from each other. And it’s true to an extent–we’ve all seen (or been) a table of friends at dinner, busily texting away on their smartphones ignoring each other. But I’d like to call the glass half full for a minute here. Because in some ways, I’m finding that technology is making it easier than ever to observe a festival, celebrate a ritual, create a sense of community, or observe a liminal stage.
When we were planning our wedding on the island of Corfu (an endeavor that took four months from engagement to ceremonies–we had two, Catholic and Greek Orthodox, that’s how much we love a ritual), we used theknot.com to develop and host our wedding website. I think it’s slated to disappear six months after the wedding, so if you move fast you can still catch www.eleniandemilio.com. If you click on the “Guest Book” link, which came automatically with the web design, so it was no stroke of genius on my part, you’ll see that many of Emilio’s relatives in Nicaragua, and some of mine in Greece, wrote moving notes of congratulation. In many cases, they were also notes of introduction, because I hadn’t yet met Emilio’sentire family when we got engaged. (You can also see pictures of my first visit to Nicaragua to do so in the Photo Album section.) I was surprised, and delighted, to find that the wedding website was able to create a sense of community among guests before any of them met–and that it allowed elderly relatives who couldn’t attend the ceremony itself to feel as if they had taken part in commemorating the occasion.
Besides theknot.com (and its post-wedding follow-up sites, the nest.com, which helps you decorate your marital home, and thebump.com, which enables pregnant women to scare each other in chat rooms and track the milestones of their baby’s gestation), I have another favorite cyber-aid for commemorating holidays. Let’s say your name is Haralambos, Vlassios, or Theodora. Chances are, it’s none of the above, but if it were, and you and I were BFFs, I’d hop onto iconograms.org and send you an e-card of an icon with your patron saint on it in order to celebrate your nameday, the day dedicated to the saint for whom you were named. Haralambos–which is often, oddly, given the nickname Babis–is the 10th.
Theodora’s nameday is the 11th, when we celebrate the Empress Theodora. You can also send icons to commemorate holidays and feastdays (but you might have mixed emotions if a parent were to send you a Prodigal Son iconogram on February 20th, the Sunday of the Prodigal Sun. All iconograms on the site are free, a service provided by the Department of Internet Ministries of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. But the ability to send Empress Theodora flying through cyberspace to make your friend Dora’s nameday all the more special is priceless.
When I’m not sending saints across the wires, I’m using the internet to help the economy by cybershopping. One site I’ve subscribed to is Exclusively.In.com, which sells Indian products and clothing. I have yet to buy anything from the site (although I did just buy a small wardrobe at the Lexington Sari Palace last weekend in NYC), but I loved today’s boutiques, which are all wedding themed. There’s one showing jewelry to wear to your mehndi (the ladies’ pre-wedding party where the bride and female wedding guests have henna painted on their hands), another selling lehngas for bridesmaids who aren’t afraid to show their midriffs in these traditional skirt and crop top ensembles, and a third featuring Sexy Sangeet Wear. Sangeet literally means music, and it’s the name given to the wedding-eve festivities when friends and relatives dance to amuse the bride and groom. This is the first time I’ve heard of a “Sexy Sangeet”, which seems rather racy when you consider that, in traditional Bollywood films, the hero and heroine are rarely shown kissing because it’s too scandalous. But we have to expect the internet to add a little innovation, even as it enables us to celebrate age-old rituals.