Happy New Whatever!
Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
January 1, 2007
Call me a curmudgeon, a contrarian, a kill joy, a realist, or a more highly evolved primate. I have come to the conclusion that New Year celebrations are designed to keep the simple monkeys occupied with lights and liquor, as a way of distracting them from the arbitrary nature of yet another Hallmark holiday based entirely on over consumption.
Like Pavlovian dogs, every year people spend way too much time and money celebrating the crossing of a line between December and January, as if the transition from one anthropocentric boundary to another was ever in question, or a novel occurrence.
Sorry folks the only difference between December 31st and January 1st, is the menu and the teams throwing dead pigs around stadiums to entertain their fellow monkeys in the name of commerce.
The concept of using bread and circuses, to placate the uneducated masses, has been around since the ruling class of ancient Rome used the carnage of the coliseums and free loaves of stale bread to maintain their power and control of the people. Nothing has changed, except gladiators have been replaced with football players, and the bread is no longer free.
On the morning of the first, I took note of the amount of print journalism, and broadcast media dedicated to reporting the mindless tradition of counting backwards from ten along with millions of others, while a shiny ball descends to cheers and forests of confetti. This would be absurd if it wasn't so pathetic.
The only secular New Year celebration, the "western" New Year, also happens to be the only one not based on the lunar calendar, and the only one not tied to deep cultural traditions and histories.
The Persian New Year, Nowruz, the oldest Iranian tradition, takes place on March 20th, the spring equinox, and has since 3000 BC, having been celebrated by all Mesopotamian cultures. Seen as a time to reflect on the victory of good over evil, this festival is neither religious or national, nor is it consider ethnic. Sumptuous, elegant, and opulent, along with simple, cordial, and refreshing is the goal of most Nowruz celebrations.
Deepavali, is the 5-day New Years festival of lights recognized by Hindus, Sihks, and Jains as a celebration of life, and as a time for strengthening of family and social ties. Dating back to1577, Dewali, as it is also called, begins somewhere between October 19th and November 20, coinciding with the 15th day of Kartika.
The Muslim New Year falls on the first day Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar. Triggered by the sighting of the first crescent of the new moon, this year the Muslim New Year begins on January 20th, and as with every year marks the anniversary of the October 10. 680, Battle of Karbala. Harram means forbidden, and traditionally fighting was forbidden during Muharram.
Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year. In keeping with the Hebrew calendar this ancient tradition extends over the first two days of Tishret, occurring 163 days after the first day of Passover. Rosh Hashanah is a time of reflection and repentance.
A tradition since the Xia Dynasty 2205 BC, the Chinese New Year is a 15 day celebration. Beginning February 18th, in 2007, Chinese New Years starts on the second new moon after the winter solstice. This is a time of family reunion and honoring ancestors. 2007 is the year of the pig.
The western tradition of celebrating the secular New Years with midnight revelry , originated in 1878 in England on the steps of London's St. Paul cathedral, with people who gathers to hear the ringing of newly installed bells. Prior to that, New Years day was recognized as a day of divination.
Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year, is more prominent in that culture than Christmas. The song, Auld Lang Syne, is Scottish in origin, and is now sung in most English speaking cultures to mark the New Year.
So much for arbitrary boundaries.