December 31, 2003

to celebrate the new year

I used to look up at the dark sky, cloudy with maybe a star or two showing through the city haze or gaze around the room I was in, looking at the various objects, so tangible, each with a history: even if it was just a plastic molded toy stamped with "Made in China" on the bottom, it had come on a boat or in a plane, sat on a store shelf, had a life. Or maybe I'd walk down the night-lit street, slick with rain, and listen to the clomp of my boots on the sidewalk. I used to do all that on New Year's Eve and think, "Will this feel different tomorrow? Will I be a different person, will my body's cells have metamorphosed, become new in the new year? Will I be me in the future which is next year which is tomorrow which is still unknown but approaching fast, so very fast?"

I was young, I'll grant you that. After a while, after several years slid past, I knew tomorrow is tomorrow whether or not it's also next year. And then I stopped celebrating so much. Why make such a big deal about the click of one number over to another? It's so random. So arbitrary.

But that too is wrong, I think. So what if it's a number? It's also a marker. You can hold a year in your mind, it's both long and short enough to sum up. It becomes something concrete. 1992, that was a good year for me. A belated six week honeymoon in Europe at its core. 2001, a very bad year due to the obvious and also some personal traumas. 2003, pretty good, in all. The beginning of some long-awaited transformations.

I've had a problem celebrating something so Christian at its core. The year coming is two thousand and four anno domini, the year of our lord. Whose lord? Not mine. As a dating system, it's relatively recent. In Europe, it wasn't used much until Charlemagne's reign in the late 8th century. But when I started poking around online, I found out that New Years itself has a longer tradition. Much, much longer. Try four millennia. The Babylonians celebrated New Years. But they, like modern-day Jews, celebrated in the spring. Which makes more sense to me. Spring, awakening, greening, renewal. But Julius Caesar presided over the creation of the Julian calendar, which we still use. He and the senate picked January 1st as the date to celebrate. January, ruled by the two-faced god Janus. March, ruled by Mars. Roman gods. And the days of the week? Norse gods: Wednesday = Wotan's day, Friday = Freya's day. We still pay homage to or at least touch upon the ancient gods in our daily life. Which puts the anno domini into perspective. For me, it's all of a piece. Other people's belief systems become part of the fabric of our language, the symbols transmuted.

Apparently the ancient Babylonians made New Years resolutions too. The most popular, according to one site I read, was to return borrowed farm equipment. I wonder if our most common resolutions say as much about our culture? Lose weight, exercise more, spend more time with friends and family, stop smoking, be less stressed, enjoy life more. It does paint a portrait of the twenty first century, doesn't it?

This year I resolve to live in my life more completely and with more conviction. Oh yes, and I'll return that plow too.

Posted by Tamar at December 31, 2003 09:19 PM