As the Grinch is to Christmas, so am I to New Year. Yes, I am that person who will tell you that the New Year is just an arbitrary date unworthy of celebration – just an excuse to fill up some of the space after Christmas with vast amounts of Champagne, (false) hope in “a new start” (which usually seems to mean “new diet”) and annoying repetitions of either Auld Lang Syne or Abba’s “Happy New Year” (or both).
In my family we have never really celebrated at New Year. As children we went to bed as usual and woke up knowing that January had started. As we grew up, we sometimes stayed awake with our parents and watched the London fireworks on the BBC and drank an austere glass of champagne at midnight. In my last few years as a young adult I have variously spent New Year crying (2007/8, a long story), puking, sleeping and trying to light and set off those flying Chinese lanterns in the freezing wind with little success (last year.) The only good New Year I have had was in 2009/10 when I managed to actually be at a party I enjoyed with people I love. Here it was the company, and not the fact that it was New Year, that made me happy.
You could be forgiven for thinking that, like the Grinch, my shrivelled heart must just be a few sizes too small to take in all that optimism, hope and goodwill. The Grinch, however, had some very good points about the falseness of a commercial Christmas and I have some doubts about the enforced cheeriness of the New Year. I think I just don’t get what is so special about it. And seemingly neither does anyone else I ask, at least not really. Yes it is a great excuse for a party, but as everyone knows, one does not wake up on the first of January a new creation with a fresh start. Rather one wakes up with a banging headache, mild depression, the sure knowledge that nothing has really changed, and a foolhardy plan to eat only lettuce leaves during the coldest month of the year or rearrange one’s garage.
In my grinchiness I decided to do some research and to my delight I discovered that for those of us who don’t see the point of getting excited about the first of January, there are various other possible – and vastly more meaningful – dates we can choose to celebrate a new start instead. Here are a selection:
1. The Winter Solstice (21st/22nd December)
Meaningful because this is the day for the Northern Hemisphere that the days begin to lengthen once more. A date often associated with the rebirth of the Sun. Gather with the druids at Stonehenge and watch as the sun rises.
2. Lady Day (25th March)
This was considered the first day of the New Year by Christians for centuries before the Pope Gregory XIII changed it to January first (which was also the day he decided to start a mass persecution of Jewish people, another reason to leave the date alone). It was believed to be the day that the angel Gabriel visited Mary and Jesus was conceived. Go for a walk in the fresh Spring air and observe the new life around you. Consider honouring the women in your life, or the feminine in yourself.
3. Chinese/Lunar New Year (Anytime between Jan 21st and Feb 20)
Traditionally a 15 day long festival to mark the beginning of Spring, the paper lanterns, dragon parade and food is a heck of a lot better than the Christmas-music soaked binge of January 1st. Find a celebration near you and marvel as the dragon is defeated for another year.
4. Advent (Liturgical New Year) (First Sunday of Advent)
The Christian liturgical year starts on the first Sunday of Advent – a perfect time of waiting and preparing for the birth of Christ. Light candles and enjoy the build-up of hope in a liturgical church setting.
5. Make up your Own Date
If you want a fresh start or to take up a new activity or give up a bad habit, why wait until January? Your New Year can start on the day you choose. Make up your own ritual to symbolise your commitment. New Year is what you make it – if you’re still not convinced that the date is arbitrary, go and look at this Wikipedia page – turns out you can pick almost any day and it will coincide with someone’s New Year!
Whenever and however you choose to celebrate, I hope you are blessed. I will be going to bed as usual and saving the champagne to have with my orange juice in the morning.
The day is yours, and yours also the night;
you established the sun and moon.
It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth;
you made both summer and winter.