How Many New Years?

 

I persuaded my oldest daughter to get married on December 31st.  My persuasive arguments? Her sister and brother-in-law would be home for the holidays, they could file a joint tax return, and when they celebrated their wedding anniversary, the whole world would celebrate with them. This year they will have their 25th new beginning as a married couple, a new beginning that starts with a holiday.

January 1st is an arbitrary date, marking the end of the Roman Saturnalia that began with the winter solstice.  Chinese New Year is in February.  On the old style calendar New Year’s Day fell in France on what is now April 1st.  Those who failed to switch and continued to celebrate the old date were—you guessed it—April fools. The Jewish New Year is in the fall, and the Celtic new year began with Samhain, which morphed into Hallowe’en.  Both traditions defined their days from dusk to dusk, so it was fitting that they celebrated the expected return of the light in late December  by going into the darkness after the autumnal equinox.

Each of us has other new years as well.  My birthday is June 30th, the last day of the state fiscal year. (It used to be the last day of the federal fiscal year, but Congress had too much trouble getting a budget passed in time, so they moved it up six months.  Now they never get a budget passed in time.)  So a new year in my life begins every July 1st, and as an economist specializing in state and local public finance, I am pleased to know that it coincides with a new fiscal year.

From age 5 to age 75, my life was also guided by the academic calendar as I progressed from kindergarten o college professor.  Our academic contracts took effect August 15th.  One year I held a new year’s eve party for a group of professor friends on August 14th. Back to school is definitely a new beginning each fall for students and teachers alike, leaving behind the failings of the previous year, committing to do better, and building on the learning of the year before.

While we associate New Year’s Day with parades, football games and in the south, collard greens, for many of us it is a chance to start over, a new beginning.  In the Celtic tradition one casts away those experiences, habits, grudges, complaints, that we do not want to carry as baggage into the new year. On the positive side, we can make resolutions.  The advantage of celebrating multiple new years instead of just one is that we have more than one chance to start over. Your diet and exercise plan or commitment to keeping a journal or promise to call your parents every week didn’t last until the end of January?  No problem.  You can begin again on Chinese New Year, the old French New Year, your birthday, the new school year, and/or the Jewish or Celtic New Year.  It’s never too late, or too early, to start over.

A Happy New Year, and many more in 2019.

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