01 January 2012

New Year's

In the past, New Year's Eve has been among my least favorite holidays. Maybe it's the fact that it has to follow Christmas's act, maybe it's the fact that the much-lauded "ball drop" will never live up to my childhood interpretation of an actual drop of the giant glass ball from a significant height, presumably to shatter into a million pieces on the ground. The whole ordeal has always just seemed anti-climactic: you're back together with all the long-lost loved ones you haven't seen since the week before, and the excitement either seems forced or just alcohol-induced. And as a pedantic little twerp, I've also always taken issue with the arbitrary concept of the date on which the "new" year begins, and the human-centric practice of measuring time by our own little planet's revolutions.

But I've recently been looking at the holiday in a new light, fueled by my ponderings of what sort of winter holiday I might celebrate with my hypothetical family someday. Celebrating Christmas can be enjoyable, but not only am I an atheist but I also have no desire to lie to my kids about Santa, either. So I need something else to fill the space (a family-oriented, gift-giving winter holiday seems to go much deeper into human tradition than just Christian tradition, and in the US, school is conveniently off for the week). There are plenty of options based around the solstice, but I'm no more pagan than I am Christian or Jewish, so that wouldn't feel any more appropriate for me.

But what I've begun to think about is perhaps a multi-night New Year celebration, with gift-giving. Despite my previous lack of enthusiasm for New Year's, it is satisfactorily secular, and if it were to stand on its own instead of following Christmas--while absorbing some of that holiday's significance--I think it could fill the space nicely. A large part of Christmas (at least from my point of view) is already about celebrating another year spent with loved ones. My lingering pedantry was still making me wonder how enthusiastic I'd be able to get about the New Year concept in general, though, until I saw this awesome comic on the subject from the blog Storyboards..

Click here to read the whole thing

That extension of the celebration to all of humanity and life in general totally won me over. While the "start" date of the year is of course still entirely arbitrary, the celebration of a new revolution seems a lot more meaningful in that light. Not only can it be an appreciation for the passage of time in the company of loved ones, it can also be a recognition of the great cosmic fortune enjoyed by life on Earth, including our own species. You could even see the celebration of a(n approximately) 365-day year as recognition of our position in our star's habitable zone. And like the comic says, instead of making the same, traditionally self-absorbed New Year's resolutions, we could instead make resolutions on behalf of humanity and life in general.

As for how exactly to signify and celebrate this new conglomeration of holidays, I'm still deciding. I don't want to get too caught up in things and start inventing all sorts of new traditions, since we can see how that's worked out for Christmas. Every year that celebration seems more and more centered on the fluff than the philosophy. I don't want my mongrel holiday to devolve into a preoccupation of a certain type of decoration or a seemingly innocuous story that comes to overshadow the original intent; I want it to stay grounded in reality and a simple appreciation of love, friendship, our fellow human beings, and all life.

I think general winter-themed decorations would work: snowmen, snowflakes, and the like. And while I can't stand the gaudy and overdone outdoor light and decoration displays that bring some people enjoyment, I do think simple white lights used smartly can be incredibly gorgeous, and could totally get behind that. As for a Christmas tree- or Menorah-analogous centerpiece, I'm still not sure. It's nice to have a simple symbol to summarize the sentiment of a holiday, but I hesitate to include for the reasons I listed above; I don't want the focus to shift to the symbol itself. But I have plenty of time yet to figure out that, and all the other details. And so far I'm pretty excited about the whole concept.

What do you think?

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