One of my favourite parts of being a young teenager was being old enough to stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve, and young enough to be able to sleep a few hours and wake up for the Rose Parade with no ill effects. I particularly liked New Year’s Eve because it was the culmination of the whole holiday season, which began with Halloween back in October and the noisemakers, parties, and fireworks seemed like an appropriate way to say goodbye to a time of the year when people (mostly) seemed focused on being nicer than usual. It was also a time when I could feel as though I was a real part of a larger community; anticipating the same events and expecting a lot of the same things – candy on Halloween, turkey on Thanksgiving, presents on Christmas, and light and magic on New Year’s. Which is where the let-down eventually came in for me.
In the U.S., we celebrate big time on New Year’s. So do a lot of other countries. And those on the other side of the international dateline get to celebrate the new year a few hours earlier than we do. But what are we celebrating? Most people would probably say a ‘clean slate’ or ‘fresh start’. In some cultures, preparing for this fresh start includes cleaning the house from top to bottom and paying off all your debts so you start the new year unencumbered. That’s a great tradition and a nice thought, but once any end-of-year holiday time is over, we go back to the projects and problems at the office or at school. Not really much changes except the date. So the idea of a new start is largely a symbolic one, which we could just as well apply to any day in any week or month. And some of us – with our ‘I’ll get back on that diet tomorrow’ – frequently do.
As a kid, I guess I thought there might be something magical in the change of the date that was celebrated with such enthusiasm. With this change in the numbered year, somehow a new wave of possibilities might be on their way. This might be the year that my hair stopped being so straight and fly-away or I might actually enjoy school or dad might be nicer or flying cars might be invented. But change, though it may seem sudden, is usually not. It takes time and effort for possibility to become reality. So the new tomorrow of January 1st ends up looking a whole lot like December 31st or even like January 1st from the previous year.
Maybe having seen these holidays roll by in their cycle for several decades is why I no longer view New Year’s Eve as a ritual for enticing the universe to shower blessings upon me and mine. I no longer think that if I perform the ritual correctly – having a date and a party to go to, wearing new clothes, and carrying a bottle of champagne – magically, all I have hoped for will come to pass in the next twelve months. I have seen and lost too much to believe in the efficacy of spells concocted by Madison Avenue and societal expectations. But I haven’t lost my belief in possibilities. I still hope the Loch Ness Monster really exists. I tell myself a zombie apocalypse could happen. World peace could actually happen. I’m pretty sure many of my dreams can still come true. I’ll just have to keep working on them; regardless of the date.