A week from today is the Celtic New Year ,October 31st (or November 1st). Hallowe’en was Samhain (pronounced Sah-wain) in the Celtic tradition. It was the day when the walls between this world and the spirit world were thinnest, and ghosts walked the earth. It was a day to honor the dead, and to begin again, experiencing the cold and dark of the womb of earth before being reborn again into the light and warmth of spring.
There are many times to celebrate a new year. January 1st is arbitrary, in deep winter, ten days after the winter solstice. (For an economist, that date is important as the start of a new tax year.) Christians start their new year with Advent, four Sundays before Christmas. Chinese New Year’s Day is in February. A new school year, for many who are teachers are students, is definitely worth knowing as a fresh start, usually in August or September. I once hosted a new year’s eve party on August 14th, because Clemson University’s academic calendar and our nine month faculty contracts started on August 15th
.States celebrate a new fiscal year on July 1st, as the federal government used to until it was chronically unable to get a budget passed in time, so it is now October 1st. The Jewish New Year is a moveable feast, being on a lunar calendar, but like the Celts, the Jews celebrate a new year by going into and through the darkness instead of starting with the return of the light. As for me, I observe two new years: July 1st, the day after my birthday, a new year of my life, and January 1st, because it dictates so many other events and financial matters, and I am an economist by profession and mental framework.
.The idea of going through the darkness and into the light is one worth contemplating, along with the two remarkable cultures that adopted that season as the time to celebrate their new year. The Celts and the Jews were wise and persistent peoples with a great deal of depth of being that persisted from ancient times until the present day. The darkness they celebrate is a period of renewal—hibernation, reflection, a slowing down of activity, a time for closeness. Central heating, foodstuffs from all over the world, electric lights, refrigeration, and television have made winter less different from other seasons of the year in modern industrial culture. We can have fresh blueberries in December, displacing the more traditional holiday fruits. If we are wealthy enough, we can escape the winter cold by becoming snowbirds and spending up to half a year in Florida or Mexico or the Caribbean.
Aside from the expense and inconvenience, that never appealed to me. My body and soul need winter. I know longer have any yard work to do for at least three or four months. I can turn my attention to nesting, to indoor improvements, to learning new skills and ideas and especially to catching up on my reading. (I have only read 95 books so far this year, the first time I have kept track, and there are so many more!). I can plan what I will do in the year that officially begins on January 1st, start new projects and finish old ones. I can spend long winter evenings doing jigsaw puzzles and watching documentaries.
Poet Mary Oliver asks us, what we will do with our one wild and precious life? That’s too big a question for me, but I can decide what to do with this one dark and quiet season before the earth (at least in South Carolina) bursts forth in glorious technicolor, sunshine, and new possibilities and demands. As you enter the darkness, what new possibilities are taking root and growing in the darkness to burst forth in March? How will you use this one precious and wild season of winter?