Years ago, long before I worked at Cigar Aficionado, I went to a party at a friend's house. A member of his family had just given birth, and it was time to celebrate. A tent was put up in the backyard, long tables brought out and huge bowls of pasta with red sauce and sausage were passed around, with plenty of red wine and loud conversation. After cake and coffee, after the meal was cleared away and the sun had set, someone passed out cigars. The men lit up, laughter ensued, and a new child was welcomed into this world the way it had been done time and time again, surrounded by relatives bonding over a smoke.
The cigars were far from fancy, the wine no award winner, but it was a memorable night. Cigars are for celebration. I smoke cigars all the time, and if you're reading this blog I suspect you enjoy a great smoke on a regular basis as well. But when there's a wedding, or a birth, or a big deal to commemorate, even casual cigar smokers and a few brave non-smokers might grab a Churchill from the box that is passed around, light up, and celebrate in style.
This age-old ritual (who knows when it began?) was brought to the forefront last week when the Cincinnati Reds, a baseball team that has been denied a postseason berth for 15 years, grabbed the National League Central Division with a walk-off home run and celebrated the milestone with big cigars in the locker room
A few people watching on TV called to complain. (Read our story here.) People watching adults celebrating a team's biggest win since 1995 with a few cigars called to complain, prompting Cincinnati officials to send an inspector to ensure such a transgression doesn't happen again.
What a great use of city resources.
Cigars have been lit to celebrate the finest things in life for ages, and some of my fondest moments have been paired with celebratory smokes. The type of cigar being smoked isn't what's important-I've been handed Cubans, Nicaraguans, Dominicans, even machine-made smokes and have puffed away happily to commemorate happy occasions. Births. Weddings. Promotions. New homes. The list goes on and on.
Clipping and lighting a celebratory cigar is a ritual that involves people gathering and spending time together. Lighters and cutters are passed. One helps another with the light, perhaps cupping hands to shelter the flame from the wind if the cigars are being smoked outside. Jokes are made, memories shared. Time is spent together, for a good cigar should not be rushed.
My dad rarely smoked cigars, but when he retired I brought home a box of finely aged smokes I had been saving for a special occasion, and he lit up with a big smile. The photo I have of him, my brother and myself smiling and puffing together is one of my favorite photos in the world. It was more than a decade ago, but I can remember that cigar as if I smoked it yesterday.
This celebration is hardly the first time that someone has complained about a smoky celebration in sports. Earlier this year, the Candian women's hockey team fired up big cigars long after their Olympic gold victory. Photos of the women puffing away brought a torrent of criticism, criticism I doubt that would have been brought had the celebrants been male.
I doubt this complaint will be the last. And while I'm a Yankees fan, and I harbor no ill will against the Phillies, I find myself rooting for the Reds to win this series, hoping they'll stand brave, fines be damned, and fire up big cigars again in protest against the people who wish to extinguish an age-old tradition.