The little blue ball we call home has made yet another orbit around the sun, its axis spinning at 1,000 miles per hour, its body jettisoning through space at 67 times that speed.
But the New Year goes beyond these material elements. It goes beyond the physical science of cycles of the Earth and sun and moon. Yes, the New Year is indeed more than a dry interplay of biological masses and celestial orbs. When you dissect it you find that it is physical and temporal, sure, but also largely cultural and emotional.
We decorate and embellish it with fireworks, tinsel and gifts. We host parties and feasts. We kiss and hug.
During this time of year our minds and bodies are infused with the idea of starting anew or transforming. It has become traditional for us to make predictions and, more frequently, resolutions.
Like the snake that rubs its body along rock and dirt to unsheathe itself, we itch to slither out of old habits, old states of mind, old preoccupations (or occupations). Each year we are filled with possibility and hope for the next 12 months as we peer over our shoulders at the accomplishments, regrets, losses and loves of the past.
Indeed, the New Year makes for a marked, acute delineation between what was and what could be.
But each culture, each hemisphere makes the New Year its own. It binds communities, large and small, in an overarching awareness of a pinpointed, transitional spot of time.
In China the New Year is their longest and most revered celebration, based on both the solar and lunar calendars. Festivities begin on the first day of the month and span 15 days, ending with the Lantern Festival. Families gather for their reunion dinner on Chinese New Year’s Eve.
The Celts once celebrated their New Year near Oct. 31 with the festival of Samhain, meaning “summer’s end,” when nature began dying off for the year.
In Mexico they eat a grape with each chime of the New Year’s bell while making a wish.
In our culture we celebrate the 365.25 days it takes for the earth to orbit the sun. We eat collards and black-eyed peas in hopes of good fortune.
How interesting that the concept of a “year” can have so many meanings and that we all operate on such different cycles.
And how strange it is, really, our tradition of honoring the end of one of these chosen time periods for the next. The reality is that our lives operate more or less irrespective to those measured hunks in each year’s calendar.
It’s more personal than that.
Is it not more effortless to measure our lives by events, by deaths and births, by our gardens, by overcoming an illness comforting a loved one?
In whatever way the world chooses to honor the New Year, marking the end of a cycle offers up new possibilities for us all as we forge ahead into the coming months.
Let’s all celebrate the newness and the potential of this, our New Year.
Happy 2011 from the Progress staff