Not just another new year

The 1st of January, although recurring at regular, foreseen intervals should be a charming event.

Every new year starts with resolutions and this one is no different. But even as resolutions, and the habit of making them, become subjects of mockery I find the process to be helpful in several ways. Resolutions are not so much a new start as they are a stop part way through a hike when you stop to browse a map and ensure you are on track. Look at them this way and the “new year” itself becomes little more than a monotony while resolutions hold their ground.

Looking at resolutions this way, one quickly realises that calling them a new start is quite meaningless. You could simply celebrate “new week” every seven days and make resolutions. Maybe you should. Maybe we already do: they are called to-do lists and some of us review them every week. So resolutions are glorified to-do lists and, like any such list, they have their place in our lives.

So long as people make the effort to work towards their resolutions, I think recognising a new year is a good thing and, by extension, so is making resolutions.

I notice further that there are certain societies (or is it just individuals?) who pop the bleak question: why should we celebrate the new year when the West wants us to? (You will notice this is also the same grating voice that gives off the first cries of war.) The results are articles that describe the new year as a declaration from the “west” that the rest of the world is blindly following.

The question about when one ought to celebrate the new year has only one, resounding answer: nobody cares. If you do not want to celebrate it on the first of January, do it on the nth of whenever. The Chinese do it when they like and they do not make a fuss about it. The new year is just a marker, and a lot more thought has gone into it than most people want to acknowledge.

Although the calendar we follow today is itself named after a Pope, making it seem like entirely a religious or “western” propaganda tool, its architects were two of the leading scientific minds of the sixteenth century: the mathematicians and astronomers, Aloysius Lilius and Christopher Clavius, who, between them, wrote proposals of over a thousand pages, not a single one of which anybody cares to read today.

The point is, the calendar has almost nothing to do with any religion. It also is not an entirely scientific table, perhaps only in part. It is in agreement with the only phenomenon that coincides with our definition of a “year”: the revolution of the Earth around the Sun. The Lilius-Clavius calendar (or the Gregorian calendar if you do not want to be a radical who renames things) is, above all, a civil idea and an idea around which a lot of societies and laws are built, for better or worse. So far nothing is broken, so why try to fix it?

This should also not be mistaken for a call to maintain the status quo. By all means, if you have a good enough reason to improve on the Gregorian calendar, propose it. In fact, let us even think about renaming it after you. “The west says it’s the new year, why should we agree?” is not a valid reason by any measure.

And new year as a marketing tool? For one, that is what marketers do because it is their job: to them everything is a marketing tool not unlike everything is mathematical to a physicist or mathematician. Secondly, that is an epoxy putty of a reason that can be bent into any shape and applied to absolutely anything. New year as a christian tool? Hardly: 1st January has no special significance in any religion, certainly not christianity. Just because refining the existing, flawed calendar (which, in fact, was based on Christian holidays) into one that was based entirely on the Earth’s revolution was the Pope’s idea does not make the calendar itself Christian.

Allow me to reply to another point in Mr George’s article in the spirit of civil debate: of course calendar manufacturers want you to buy new calendars every January. Even if the new year were celebrated every June, you would still buy a new calendar every year. You could argue about a biannual calendar or a calendar for every decade but, (a) it would become that much costlier anyway, and (b) it would be bulky and unwieldy.

Up next, Valentine’s Day? It has become, of late, fashionable to belittle this particular day. Nobody holds a gun to your head and makes you celebrate it; nobody should hold a gun to your head and prevent you from celebrating it either. I do not celebrate it myself, but I realise there are many who like to and if they buy something on that day, so be it. In fact, people spend more on Black Friday deals than Valentine’s Day, and even the Chinese Singles’ Day sees nearly eighteen times more spending than Valentine’s Day. so I doubt marketing alone is the culprit here. If we are blaming anyone, then people’s expectations and desires ought to be right at the top of our list.

And while we are at it, maybe change them some more so people are fine with nudity and then we can launch an anti-marketing campaign against clothes manufacturers who draw us in with attractive-looking ensembles of cotton threads. It is easy to be a pessimist; devilishly so, in fact. But what is the purpose?

Mr George’s article ends with a quote by G.K. Chesterton that, for some reason, looked to me to be out of context. It seems to support the premise of the article, that (at least as I understood it) new year is a lowly Western ideology and a modern marketing tool that needs to have no place in our lives. Except, on further enquiry, I found that the last part of Chesterton’s quote had been omitted and, perhaps, with good reason. Because he makes a point favouring new year celebrations and resolutions. Se let me end with the same quote, except the full and proper version: “The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.”

I can go further and give you the next two lines from that paragraph: “Unless a man starts on the strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterwards. Unless a man be born again, he shall by no means enter into the kingdom of heaven.” So there you go, a poor choice of quote after all that in no way serves to prove Mr George’s point. And if I misunderstood his article entirely, I offer my sincerest apologies: either I am a bad reader or he an inadequate writer (and it is mostly the former). Nonetheless, he is not the only one with such an opinion about the new year and my only intent is to debate it, between one educated man and another.

So go ahead and celebrate the new year. And make resolutions too. Just make sure you try to keep them at least through March this time round. And if you have a problem with our current definition of the new year, come up with a genuinely better one or sit tight and coldly ignore the date as it goes by. Or maybe, instead, celebrate the fact that we almost made it to perihelion. But whatever you do, try to be optimistic about it and do not let it go as just another new year, because it never is just another new year. At least not unless you habitually focus on the column of air above the water in your glass.

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