Synopsis: What does the New Year really means? In this post, I briefly explore the many forms that New Year’s celebrations can take around the world, with links to some interesting sites and online articles. Then I talk about the personal meaning the western cultural construct of New Year has for me and for those I love the most.
Ten days ago I arrived at home from my Christmas holidays in Puerto Rico, and one of the first things I did was check my e-mail, check FB, and check the visits on RantInElla. Nothing had changed since the last time I checked a couple of weeks ago, and I felt devastated. Somehow I thought that the new year would start with a bang, that I will arrive at home and find my inbox full of good news, FB full of warmth and cheers from “my friends,” and RantInElla.com magically turned into an incredible success among all the diverse intellectuals of the world. I was looking for something real in the realm of the illusory and I got desperate when it didn’t work that way.
(Imagine feeling devastated after spending your holidays here.)
Which made me think how artificial but necessary is the ritual of reset of the New Year. Everything was the same; the world was still marching in the same direction as two weeks ago. Christmas time was special for many reasons and hope had decided to flourish again in my head and my heart, but I haven’t dealt with the reality of my life, I just managed to forget about it for some days. And after all the celebrations there was a blank space in my wall where my 2017 calendar and my last-year goals where hanging, and I still didn’t have a new calendar or new goals to put in their place. But I had hope, sort of.
I am determined that if 2018 will suck as much as the two previous years, at least I am going to fight it’s suckiness every step of the way. One of my tactics is to embrace the concept of New Year’s reset.
What does it mean to have a New Year? In most western societies we follow the Gregorian calendar which states that the year ends on December 31st and starts anew on January, but for most people in the world the year is a different time construct. The Chinese New Year is celebrated on Friday, February 16, 2018. According to this source, “Chinese New Year celebrations, also known as the Spring Festival in China, start on the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month of the Chinese calendar.” Various activities are made to entice good luck to come around and to communicate clearly to bad luck that it is no-longer welcomed; from the description there seem to be underlying themes of reset and renewal. And this source cites five different New Year-style festivals around the world, all centered around hopes of good luck, material and/or spiritual gains, and getting new opportunities in life. Beyond those specially designated New Year festivals, there are myriad celebrations around the world marking different religious, cultural, or historical events with underlying themes of triumph over adversity (or enemies), or bringing in good luck, or beating back the bad luck, of saviors and heroes, the march of time, and being able to do something to influence one’s fate. It appears that there is a need for a restart and reset, for making things good or better, that goes beyond cultural differences.
Another popular example of such celebrations is the winter solstice, which is the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. More about it here. According to Time “The winter’s solstice is considered as a turning point in many cultures.” Roman and Norse traditions included several types of celebrations around this time, marking the turning or rebirth of the year.—It also looks like surreal fun.—
Is the New Year that important? Absolutely yes, but not in the ways that we are used to thinking. It doesn’t appear to have any absolute substance if you take into account the many ways and many times in which different people celebrate it; for the same reasons, it seems to speak to that part of our brains that needs context and belonging. Choosing a day (or some days) to stop arbitrarily at some time of the year that your particular culture has imbued with meaning to ponder on the meaning of your recent personal narrative, to have closure, to find an excuse for expecting something different and good, and throw a party as a rite of passage, makes all the sense in the world. To go through ceremonies and festivities that speak to our subconscious minds and encourage them to pursue renewal perseveringly, believes that something good will happen, that we can and will change, is more than merely fun, it might be even adaptive, something that we evolved to do to deal successfully with our environment.
I love this opportunity so much that I would gladly celebrate the Chinese new year and as many other reset and renewal celebrations that I could find, along with the one dictated by the Gregorian calendar. One might not be in the mood to throw or attend a big party every time, but perhaps one can celebrate intimately, in simple ways. That brings me back to New Year’s Eve (Saint Sylvester, in France) my absolute favorite; even if nothing really changes, at least it gives me an excuse to take a series of ridiculously-long flights in order to be with the people that provide me with meaning and context: our families on both sides of the Atlantic.
How did I spend my New Year’s Eve? With my family, of course, eating, drinking, and being so happy to have the chance to be with them during a time-honored Puerto Rican ritual—playing dominoes—that I even forgot to eat alcapurrias.