A New Year
What is it that we celebrate when one year descends below the horizon of time while the next is rising beyond it? In a sense, nothing. Nothing really changes at this point. Its signification appears to come from its convenience at the end of the calendar, rather than from some real (as opposed to artificial) event, like the winter solstice, or the first full moon of the Summer equinox.
Yet, there is something to be said, however briefly, about its very artificiality, a word we would be wise to remember, shares an etymology with artifice, and both of these with art; that is, with the creation of something new and symbolically powerful. The celebration of new years is an artifice of the human imagination, sure, but this does not empty if of meaning, but rather, opens a space where it can become meaningful.
What meaning do we grant it?
The new year is simultaneously requiem and ressurection.
New years is a requiem for the year, for dashed hopes, squashed aspirations, and unmet goals; a chance for us to bury our past failures, regrets, and disappointments, and let them sail off with Charon, heading for oblivion. We wanted to lose 10kg, build that deck, and become a more attentive partner, but our aspirations were not met with equivalent strength of will. No matter, that was then, and this is now. Now is the time to restart and not let these things hold one back.
New years is likewise a celebration of dreaming. It is the dream of all dreams, a dream we so ardently want to make a reality. In the new year, we celebrate the possibility of things being different. This time, we really are going to lose that weight, commit to that renovation, or become the partner our significant other deserves.
Just as new year is a requiem for a dead past, it is likewise a resurrection of hope. The hope that was trampled, beaten down, and left for dead from the trials and tribulations of the previous year is brought back to life with a renewed optimism that maybe, this time, we will succeed in the resolutions we have set ourselves.
New year’s is about recognising the person we have been in the current year and striving to be a better sort of person in the next. The new year is the metaphysical crossroad we traverse annually, where we look back at the person we were and then set our sights forth on the type of person we want to (and hopefully can) be. The new year is the juncture between a solid, fixed, and unchangeable past that refuses to budge, and a future still yet unwritten, undecided; pliant, and flexible enough for us to shape it. At new years we are faced with the inexorable tension between the questions ‘who am I’ this year and ‘who do I want to become’ in the next?
There are, as always, the naysayers, who seek to empty new year celebrations of signification. ‘Why wait’, they say, ‘until the end of the year? You can make changes now’. Strictly speaking, they are right. You don’t need to wait until the end of the year to try and become a better person. (Although, I don’t think anyone actually makes that claim). But they misunderstand why the new year is so valuable. The new year, strictly speaking, has no value. After all, it is just another arbitrary span of time. However, it has immense symbolic value. It punctures the calendar, delineating between one moment and the next. We are a symbol using species. The ring on the finger of an engaged partner and new year both are technically without value, but they remain symbolically valuable; both make real and visible to the world that something has occurred, that change has happened.
In the infinitesimally small magic moment separating this year and the next, we celebrate the possibility of a refresh; of cutting our losses and starting over in a way that allows us to make the past well and truly passed, and the future, well and truly upon us. The new year is a mourning for what we wanted to achieve but didn’t, a celebration of the chance to start anew, and a declaration that despite our failure to live up to our lofty aspirations, we are the architects of our destiny.