Today across the world we are celebrating a new year: 2013. Other cultures have, and still do celebrate the change of year on different days, as we recently had brought into focus with the end of the Mayan long cycle, since the “Western” culture now dominates the world economically, the rest of the world at least acknowledges our calender, and joins us in celebration, even when they continue to celebrate their own.
Some “alternate” New Year’s you’ve probably heard of include the Chinese New Year, on the second new moon after the winter solstice (usually late January or early February), or the Hebrew Rosh Hashanah (generally in September) , and you may have noticed that the Islamic New Year slides “backwards” through the year by a week or so every year (this year at the beginning of November). The Hindu calendar starts the new year in the spring, although with many variations by region. Samhain (at the end of October) is the Celtic/Wiccan New Year. (I think some of this may depend upon whether you think of the day ending at sunset or beginning at dawn and how you count the night. Another factor may be local climate- is there a rainy season or winter that drives people inside? If the economy is based on agriculture, when do planting and harvest happen? The fiscal calendar starts in June for some reason. Most kids think of the beginning of the school year in September. The SCA years begin at the anniversary of the first event at May Day. There are “New Year’s” change-overs all year round.
I was amused to read that the Julian calendar only changed New Years to January in the month of the god Janus rather than at the Spring Equinox (their previous New Year) so that the consuls could have more travel time to get to their posts. Most people don’t realize that it was only in the mid 18th century that the western world started changing years in January rather than March 25th (Lady Day). I guess the point I’m making with all this variety is that it’s not particularly important when the new year is marked, it’s only a convenience, like the rest of the calendar, so we can keep track of when things happened or will happen.
And that IS important because we always seem to need to be reminded that we can start fresh. Dicken’s story A Christmas Carol probably owes much of its popularity to the reminder that it’s almost never to late to start fresh. Inertia is a powerful force, and often we are tempted to continue doing things as we have been doing them simply to justify our previous actions. Sometimes it feels as though if we change directions we are declaring in some way that we were going the wrong way before, or if we change activities, that what we were doing before was wrong. A moment of reflection can easily provide many examples of how this is clearly not always so. What is appropriate, even necessary, for children, is not what adults, or teens, or old people need. Medicine is good when you need it, and bad for you when you don’t. Life changes, and we need to keep track of the changes so that we know when it’s time to change to deal with current reality.
Do you remember back before computers automatically saved (wasn’t it frustrating to lose what you’d been working on)? Lots of businesses invest regular hours of employee time updating files, because they understand how important it is to work from current data (while individuals try to simply remember what’s going on as we go). But whether you up date systematically or sporadically, there is never too many opportunities to start over.
This time of year we tend to look back over the past year, to remember how the world changed over the year, and how it changed us, to put an effort to remember what went on a year ago (because it’s easier to remember what happened in the last week or month), to get some perspective, and use that to plan the future. We make resolutions based on that perspective- this year I’m going to do it better. This year I’m going to finish projects, to tell people I love them, to remember I’m worthy of the same effort I extend to others, to stop and smell the roses, to ask for help when I need it, to pay attention to what I’m eating, listening to, thinking….
This is probably the best thing we can do- to stop and see where we are, and then intentionally choose where we’re going to go next. If we don’t it’s as if we were lost in a forest, not knowing where we are, or where we’re going. Let’s face it, even when we look back and see where we’ve come from, we still may not be sure where we are, but we have a better idea of what our past effort has accomplished.
The only thing I’d add to this is try to remember all the things that have gone into the past year, and all the things we’d like for the upcoming year. If what we pay attention to in the past is how much money we made, and the trips we took, and the awards we did or didn’t win, worse, if we dwell on what we didn’t win, and what we failed to do, this doesn’t help us create strategies to plan for 2013. If what we want is to feel loved, we need to figure out what’s made us feel loved. If we want to feel secure, we need to remember when we felt the most comfortable. If we want to spend time with our friends, we need to actually put those things into our schedule and not keep putting them off until work related projects have used up all the available time. Those things may not be great photo opportunities, an evening of cuddling may not have a tag you can hang on it like climbing a mountain, but it probably enhanced your life more than you give it credit.
If you need to- make word and image “handles” to be able to grasp those wonderful memories, and acknowledge their real value. It’s time to look backwards- and forwards, like Janus, and don’t just do it on January first, but every time you feel that it’s right. It’s your life, you decide what’s important, that’s the first step to making it happen.