Thursday, January 02, 2014

New Year's Greetings

Did you stay up Tuesday night to watch the ball drop? Do you make annual resolutions?

Rationally speaking, it seems pointless to make a big fuss over New Year’s Eve, since the beginning of the year is a completely arbitrary, human-made date. Various cultures have chosen many different dates for the first day of the year. The original Roman calendar had ten months and began with March. The Jewish New Year is celebrated in September. The Chinese New Year falls in late January or early February. Some other Asian cultures observe New Year’s in April. Samhain (November 1) is considered to be the Celtic New Year. So there’s nothing especially natural or inevitable about marking the start of a new solar cycle and making resolutions on the first of January rather than any other day.

Personally, I gave up on “resolutions” a long time ago. I do have “goals” for 2014, though, mainly related to writing projects I want to accomplish.

How to have luck in the coming year: Do you eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day? Even though my grandmother came from North Carolina, I didn’t know about this Southern custom until my husband introduced it to me. It’s supposed to ensure prosperity for the coming year (the peas represent coins, I think). In Spain, eating twelve grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve signifies twelve happy months to come. The Scottish Hogmanay celebration includes neighbors calling on each other with good wishes shortly after midnight. It’s especially good luck if the “first footer” (first visitor to the home) of the New Year is a tall, dark man. Sharyn McCrumb wrote a funny story about the first footer to a Scottish-American home being a burglar. The daughter of the house, a police officer, comes home from her late shift and arrests him.

According to our family’s tradition, it is good luck to eat dinner at a nice restaurant early enough to get home long before the party-goers hit the roads.

My parents always took down the Christmas tree on New Year's Day. We gave up that depressing custom years ago. Our tree stays up until Epiphany; I don't even start dismantling it until then. (Because it's artificial, we don't have to worry about dried-out needles.) New Year's Day in our house is a quiet time of relaxation.

Arbitrary date or not, New Year’s Eve provides an excuse to drink champagne. I’m all in favor of that! So Happy New Year to all!

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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