“Time has no divisions to mark its passage, there is never a thunderstorm or blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month or year. Even when a new century begins it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols.” Thomas Mann (1875–1955), German author, critic.
Here in Arizona, we have been known to ring in the new year not only with bells and, unfortunately, pistols (as sure as those bullets go up, they do come down), but also with the ceremonial dunking of an enormous tortilla chip into a faux vat of salsa. Don’t you just love corporate sponsorships?
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “The earliest known record of a New Year festival dates from 2000 BC in Mesopotamia.”
No mention of whether Dick Clark presided over the festivities, or if an illuminated fig was lowered to mark the occasion. But it is clear that marking the close of one year and the dawn of the next has deep roots. In South American nations, families build scarecrow-type figures that symbolize the old year; the figures are stuffed with items the family no longer wants and fireworks, then the figures are set ablaze at midnight.
The use of noisemakers and fireworks on New Year’s Eve started as a way to scare away bad spirits. And many folks won’t let today pass without a serving of black-eyed peas, cabbage or rice, all believed to bring good luck in the new year.
The passing from Dec. 31 to Jan. 1 continues to hold great symbolism for many of us. It is an impetus for renewal, for change, for rededication to things that have fallen into the margins of our lives for any of a thousand reasons. We vow to lose weight, quit smoking, correct bad habits, regain or maintain contact with those who are important to us — basically, we vow to be better people that we were the year or years before. While the goals are admirable, the effort typically tails off sometime around Valentine’s Day. So set your goals, make them reasonable and help ensure success by recruiting a friend or family member to join in your efforts (peer pressure can be a positive force).
Mann is correct in noting that celebration of the new year is indeed a man-made event. But we turn to another author, Edward Payson Powell, whose words celebrate the promise and hope that today brings:
“The Old Year has gone. Let the dead past bury its own dead. The New Year has taken possession of the clock of time. All hail the duties and possibilities of the coming twelve months!”
Happy New Year to one and all.