As those of you who are faithful readers of such magazines as The Western Quasi Review, Utah Skyline and New West Paramilitary Quarterly, I have written, under the title The Observatory, my biased and subjective observations of the human folly. Past observations included such gems as tow I talked my way out of imminent arrest for speeding through (don't blink your eyes or you'll miss) Hazen, Nevada, and hookers I have known in Hog's Holler, Kentucky.
Having lately taken up residence in the heart of America's technological Silicon Valley, amid the fruits and nuts of the great American Future that is known as California, I have found a literal horn of plenty to observe. From time to time I will be reporting my narrow view of life in the fasssst lane while wandering from one telephone equipment room to another.
It seers that every year at this time people are hustling and bustling about, finishing off their holiday chores, whether they be getting ready for Hanukka, Christmas or New Year's Eve. Each has its own particular celibrants. One of my favorites, however, is New Year's Day. You know, when you get up the morning after the night before and your tongue needs a shave? We all go through that to some extent, and we all also make a bid to make a few New Year's Resolutions, which, in the main, never seem to last more than 17 hours. There are the stock sacrificial resolutions: I resolve to give up (a) Smoking, (b) Drinking, (c) Overeating, (d) Sex, (e) All of the above.
We also hear about the resolutions of atonement: I resolve to (a) love my spouse more, (b) submit to kinky sex, (c) stop beating the kids, (d) forgive my mother-in-law. These are to assuage our guilt feelings, and we do try to give more of ourselves for a while.
But what about the custom of making these resolutions? Why do we do it on New Years 's Day particularly? The only significance of that day is the changing of the date. A more likely choice would be at the beginning of the autumn when school's in and everyone is fat and sassy from summer vacations. Other cultures, past and present, attach special significance to spring, when the earth blooms and it is a good time to make promises toward being a better person.
But is the changing of the date the only significant thing about January 1st? As it turns out, January 1 did not always fall on that day, with respect to the solar calendar. Our present calendar was "modernized" in the late 18th century to its present form. However, the ancient god Janus, for whom January is named, was identified with doors, gates, and all beginnings. He was symbolically represented as two faces, facing in opposite directions.
The ancient Romans celebrated New Year's Day in Janus' honor with all sorts of festivities of excess and costume. One might speculate that the custom of making resolutions had its origin in the early days of Christianity. The Roman church had reason to declare January 1st (eight days after Jesus' birth) a holy day but was reluctant to do so as it was felt that in so doing, the church would lend an official sanction to an otherwise undesirable secular festival.
The church of the Roman Empire instead proclaimed the kalends of January to be one of prayer and fast, of penitential processions in penance and atonement for excesses and sins committed by the masses, on the first of January.
Making New Year's resolutions might also have roots even earlier, according to Mircea Eliade, an historian of religions. He wrote that various rites be performed for the purpose of abolishing bad times past and the regeneration of time where creation can begin anew. The customs involved entering into a new cycle of time and consisted of purification and confession of sins.
In later times, through habits brought to America from England, the secular rite of passage from the old year to the new meant paying off all debts and returning all borrowed objects, allowing the past to be forgotten. The new year was represented by turning over a new leaf.
What sort of leaf we each turn over, I guess, depends on our own feelings on the notion that the New Year brings new chances for casting out the old and making the best of the new. Have a happy new year!
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