Breathing in the new year with reflection and hope
Take the time enjoy reflecting on the past, and look forward to the things to come
by ala eisa, contributor
Whether you were home alone with your cat or gathering with family safely, I’m sure you probably felt it. This is the second New Year that we’ve been urged to social distance, even self-isolate, and acknowledge that it’s been a difficult year. I’m not going to even attempt to find a silver lining, but rather find some comfort in the fact that we’re all struggling together.
I’m a complete sucker for the new year. I love it all: the eve, the day, and the afterglow that lasts all throughout the month of January and a week or so into February. I always use this transitional time to allow myself to feel the nostalgia of the past year and fill myself with hope for the year to come. It helps that the popular discourse of the day, the New Year’s resolution, is based on transformation and renewal. The grocery clerk or the Uber driver’s insightful and yet light question, “What’s your new year resolution?” breaks barriers and elevates Saskatchewan small talk to more than just the weather, even just for a short little while. The celebratory energy that accompanies the discourse is the icing on the New Year’s party cake.
Even so, it’s easy to be let down by the odd thought that passes by, “it’s just a day like any other day” or “the year isn’t even real.” These thoughts are completely valid. Technically, the New Year’s celebrations we have come to love and anticipate hinge on Caesar’s decision that January 1 is the first day of the year. There is nothing mystical or magical about a new day or even a new year, except for when we have faith that there is… or that there could be. The Romans celebrated by exchanging gifts and wishing their fellow neighbors well. Much like wishing our neighbors a “happy New Year,” the Romans delighted in the celebratory energy of the new year. It was a holiday celebrated in togetherness, based on connection. The month of January was named even earlier than Caesar’s rule, by Romulus, after the god Janus and his two faces, which allow him to look back into the past and forward into the future. In January, we still do as Janus does.
We would be doing a disservice to ourselves and to the planet by dismissing the power of New Year’s Day. Calendars, made by rulers with the help of clergymen and mathematicians and astronomers to help make sense of time, continued to shift, and turn throughout the ages. One thing has always remained the same: the energy of Janus. The Babylonians celebrated the festival of Akitu as a celebration akin to New Year’s, way back in 2000 BC. Although it was celebrated during the vernal equinox in late March, the transformative energy or rebirth and renewal was the same. Everyone was in on it.
Akitu, meaning “sowing of the barley,” was tightly conjoined with seasonal events relating to harvesting and agriculture. Even Egyptian New Year celebrations were dependent on the annual flooding of the Nile. January 1 isn’t necessarily tied with events of natural seasons, but that doesn’t make it any less worthy of real celebration or transformation. It doesn’t mean we should deprive ourselves of the possibility of renewal or rebirth.
Our January 1 New Year is disconnected from the natural world. Economists divide their year into quarters, and New Year’s Day marks the beginning of the first quarter. For many, that day also marks the beginning of a new semester at the manmade institution of university. The nature of our resolutions reflects these shifts. Most of us set self-serving goals like losing weight, starting a business, or doing well in school. In keeping with the spirit of the new year, it makes a ginormous difference to strive for these goals with the intention of serving or connecting with one another.
These resolutions might be less romantic than the Babylonian “sowing of the barley,” but there is still a wide-spread collective experience associated with believing in awe and believing in one another. The rituals of Akitu were based on renewal and survival of the world, and our intention to survive and renew ourselves is instrumental in the survival of the world. Think of pieces of a puzzle. bell hooks, may she rest in peace, said “self-love cannot flourish in isolation.” I think the Babylonians understood this. When we’re leaning into the celebratory and transformative energy of the new year, we’re understanding this as well.
I attribute this energy to the collective.
If you want to know what I mean by “the collective,” think of a power outage. When it’s solely your own home that’s dealing with a black-out, it’s annoying and you need to be annoyed all by yourself. On the other hand, there’s a momentary thrill that comes from realizing it’s your entire block or, if you’re lucky, the entire city. The disturbance is almost mitigated by the sense of togetherness, the sense of solidarity that comes from having this huge, shared experience. It’s like looking outside a shop window in Saskatchewan during January’s -45-degree weather and knowing exactly what that person sprinting and sliding across ice to their car is going through. It’s believing they can get to their car in one piece.
When the ball drops at the end of every year, it’s akin to the first-time snow kisses the pavement. We stand and admire the miracle of new seasons, in awe of the distinct shapes of snowflakes. Children gather their carrots and stray buttons, waiting for enough snow to accumulate to create snowmen. We also stand in line at KalTire or Mr. Lube, having left the switch to winter tires to the very last possible moment. However optimistic or pessimistic we are about any time of collective change, we are united in the experience of navigating these changes.
Switching 2021 to 2022 is no different than the first snowfall. It is no different than the “sowing of the barley.” Those same energies make their way into our atmosphere. The possibility of transformation is presented among the cultural tendency to set resolutions (big and small), wish each other a “happy New Year,” and keep on keeping on, together.