Resolved: A New Year



by John Tyler Connoley


January 5, 2005



Once again, we've moved our calendars from December to January and increased the year's number by one. And, just like last January and the January before that, the new year feels no different from the old year -- that is, this week feels no different from last week. The same newscasters are giving the same news reports. We're getting up and going to the same job every day. It's still winter. It's still snowing. It's still cold. It's still life as usual.


Every January, there's a sense of expectation that something other than the pictures on our wall calendars will change. In 2000, of course, there was the expectation of planes falling out of the sky and stock markets crashing, because our computers thought it was 1900. Growing up, I used to lie in bed on New Year's Eve, listening to the firecrackers and thinking, "Maybe Jesus will come back right at the moment the year changes." Then I'd wake up the next morning to the realization that nothing had happened while I slept.


No matter how firm our New Year's resolutions, no matter how high (or low) our hopes as we watch the ball drop on Times Square, the next week is always mostly like the week before. I think this has something to do with the strange decision to hold our New Year's celebration when we do -- in deep midwinter.


The timing of the western New Year has never made much sense to me. Why is it that we change our calendars at a time when there's no real change in nature? How much more sensible to change years during the autumn harvest, as Jews do. Or, even better, the Persian New Year, which occurs in the spring, while Mother Nature wakes up, yawns, and stretches her leaves and branches. Even the Chinese New Year -- only weeks after the western celebration -- arrives as the days are growing longer and the flowering bulbs are starting to shift in their beds.


It wasn't always so. Before Pope Gregory XIII decreed a new Gregorian calendar for his Western Church, most Europeans celebrated the New Year, as the Romans had, on April 1st. This celebration made sense, coming right after the Spring Equinox on March 21st, and there were many countries that refused to make the change. In fact, even after the kings and queens of Europe finally adopted the new calendar, many of their subjects took quite a while to find out about the new New Year. Those who celebrated the New Year in the old way on April 1st came to be known as April Fools. I've always thought they were more like court jesters -- wise fools who knew better than the silly old king.


This year, however, I'm starting to see some wisdom in celebrating the New Year in the darkest days of the winter. Just when it seems like the night will never end, and things couldn't get any more boring, we have the New Year to give us hope and a fresh start. We get a jolt of possibility right at the moment when things are starting to seem impossible.


In the spring, there's no need for a New Year's resolution to do more walking in the woods -- we feel like walking anyway. But, in deep midwinter, the New Year's resolution may be the only thing that gets us out of bed in the morning. In April, we have the threat of July days at the beach to turn our thoughts toward eating right. In January we almost believe we'll never be shedding our big winter coats. The flowering buds of the old New Year celebrations made declarations of hope irrelevant, but the dead branches of the new New Year make them poignant.


Yes it's just a trick of the mind, choosing to start the new year at an arbitrary date in the middle of the winter, but this year I'm celebrating the New Year with declarations of hope. I'm making New Year's resolutions and intending to keep them. Right now, when I don't think the winter will ever end, I'm looking forward to the spring and a bright summer. I may still fool around with a New Year party in April, when my body finally feels like it's a new year, but I'm embracing the possibility of something other than the picture on my wall calendar changing this January.




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Copyright 2005 by John Tyler Connoley

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