The ending of a year and the commencement of a new one always struck me as a strange event. A non-event. Humans determined how long it takes the earth to fully circle the sun, gave this orbit a starting point, then decided to celebrate the anniversary of this fictitious starting point. And for a long time I couldn’t figure out why we gave such an obviously invented holiday any weight.
I remember as a kid sitting on the beach and feeling an electricity as the count down began. The tension increased until the final digit fell away and everyone along the sand exploded with a tremendous “HAPPY NEW YEAR!” Bracing hugs were shared, kisses given, and fireworks would launch into the air. But as those coloured lights faded quickly from the night sky and normal conversation resumed among the adults, I remember thinking, Is that it? I don’t feel any different. Why is everyone making such a big deal? And by all outward appearances nothing had changed. The new year looked and felt suspiciously like the last year.
The anti-climax of new years turned me off the event. It seemed to me a desperate excuse to party, to drink, and generally do stuff you wouldn’t normally do. Creating an excuse to celebrate is no bad thing, but new years always came away as shallow because so much hung on it. We were closing the door to the problems of last year. We were resolving to be different and better people come the new year. But those pesky problems always seemed to find their way into the new year regardless of the closed door, and the new people we were meant to be had a lot of the flaws of the old.
There was too much pressure on this invented holiday that it ultimately failed to live up to the hype.
But as I’ve moved into adulthood and garnered adult pressures and responsibilities, the value of new years has started to emerge.
The first value: An excuse to party.
This didn’t carry much weight for a child who came home and read books and watched television, and whose major concern was a three-hour shift behind a supermarket register. The excuse to party was every weekend, and the chance to unwind wasn’t essential. I was pretty unwound to begin with.
But as an adult the chance to gather with friends, to turn off the train of thoughts linked to job, career, and finances, is like an oasis in a storm. And in that oasis you feel like resolutions are a good thing, and are accomplishable. Which leads us to…
The second value: Resolve.
New years is traditionally a time to make resolutions. An opportunity to improve. As a child I found this pointless; why wait for a made up date on a made up calendar? If you want to change, change. And why there is some truth to this, there’s also truth to the fact that after working a stressful eight and a half hour shift without a lunch break, the resolution of not eating junk and exercising is almost laughable. High fat foods and doing nothing when you get home are compulsory.
New years gives you an opportunity to reflect away from the exhaustion of work on what it is you really want to be achieving. Because while financial stability is an accomplishment, it’s not always satisfying. It’s not all you want to be doing. The fugue of endless work days makes this hard to remember, but new years is a marked point in time to stop, think, and resolve yourself to the person you really want to be. It doesn’t matter if you don’t stick to the goals word for word, only that you remember what you’re doing and why, and bit by bit, work towards them. This action is usually accompanied by reflection. Which leads us to…
The third value: Reflect.
The idea that the problems of last year will magically evaporate in the face of a new year is still a stupid one. Young me got that one right. But what new years does offer is the opportunity to reflect on those problems, to weigh them against the successes of a year, and realise that you may have done better than you thought you did. It’s a moment to summarise what’s not working, to appreciate what you accomplished, and to take those wins and losses and decide what you’ll do with them from that point onwards. And there is definitely value in this.
For me, 2012 was a big one. A year may only be a fictitious span of man-made time, but mine was an eventful fictitious span of man-made time. 2012 saw my first published work, my first purchased home, my first published illustrations, my first promotion, and my first hospitalisation. Phew. And I only really appreciated this list when I stopped to reflect, calculate, and appreciate what I had accomplished in a year.
Here’s hoping it only gets better.
Happy new year everyone, and all the best for 2013.