Why celebrate New Year’s?

Although I have my personal New Year’s resolution (which shall be off to a fast start today), I think I shall also have the blog make a New Year’s resolution.

About a week ago, in fact in the evening of Christmas day itself, I visited one of my good friends from grade and high school and spent an hour or two with him and his parents. While there my friend and his mother (good-naturedly) made fun of me for rarely posting original content on this blog. Despite holding firmly to the importance of commenting on other’s words and taking in the wisdom of those, well, who actually have some wisdom, the blog’s New Year’s resolution for 2011 is to consistently produce original content, and have that content roughly match the amount of non-original content on the blog. (I do have a “waxing philosophical” category that I need to use, after all.)

So let’s start the New Year off right and think about… why we celebrate New Year’s at all.

If one takes a step back and looks at what New Year’s is, one can easily see that it’s… nothing more than the changing of one day to another. No special historical commemoration this day, as on Christmas or the Fourth of July. No change of the seasons (though it is unusually warm in Cleveland today). Nothing really happens on this day other than the turning of the page from one month to another on a 16-month calendar. January 1st is a new day – but it’s a new day just like any other day. So what’s the big deal? Why make resolutions today or that begin today, rather than any other day of the year, since this day is essentially no different from those?

Although I strongly recommend that one not ignore the above possibility, making a resolution or a conversion any old day of the year rather than waiting for the New Year, I actually will defend the significance of New Year’s celebrations. The past few years of my studies, I’ve been bombarded being told that man is a “historical being,” one that lives on the earth and under the sky, in short, a being that lives in space and time. These facets of man’s existence are not merely accidental and essentially ignorable but are quite constitutive of his being. A person develops in a certain way and adopts certain meanings and values, certain ways of being in the world, depending on the cultural (spatial) and historical (temporal) milieux he is born into. Of course, one’s mindset is not determined by one’s cultural and historical context – for example, I’d like to think myself a fairly religious person in a deeply agnostic culture. However, because we humans are essentially imitative beings (sorry, it’s true – there’s a reason I’ve mostly quoted from others on the blog thus far), one’s cultural and historical context does deeply influence the way one ends up thinking and acting.

So what does this have to do with the New Year’s celebration and New Year’s resolutions? Since man is historical, he needs certain celebrations at certain times for them to be meaningful – thus why we have the commemorative feasts mentioned above. But again, why this one, when there’s nothing in particular to commemorate? I suppose one could look at it this way – New Year’s is a celebration, not of the past, but of the future. Certainly, with resolutions made and “bring it on, 2011″‘s proclaimed, that is the attitude most people take towards this celebration. Yet it happens every year on the same day because, as historical beings, we need that regularity, that rhythm, that particularity, to make this day truly meaningful.

I think the significance of New Year’s might also have something to do with the eschatological drive at man’s core. The end of the year, in a way, symbolizes the end of time. The year has run out, we’re counting down the minutes to the New Year until there’s no time left and, voila, here it is, this utterly new moment, this new measurement of time, something completely and totally fresh and, for that one moment when everyone’s cheering and lovers are embracing, something almost eternal. We all yearn for new life, free from doubts and fears and pains, and the crossing from the time of the “old year” into that infinite and joyful moment of the “New Year” aptly symbolizes that desire.

So, there are some “original” thoughts for ya. In truth, I don’t know how original they are. I don’t know how original anyone’s thoughts are. The whole idea of being original is not very original, been around for a long time… in any case, there you have it. Look forward to (or, if you prefer, dread) many more in the coming year.

Happy New Year’s to all, and Merry Octave of Christmas. And the Circumcision. And the bestowal of the Holy Name.

Oh, and happy feast of the Motherhood of Mary, too!

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