The meaning of New Years Day

I used to think of new years, and resolutions, as silly things. “Why do we need a reminder to change our lives?” I’d say. I laughed when waves of people hit the gym in the first weeks of January, and laugh again as their numbers faded by February.


But now, older, perhaps wiser, I respect New Years Day. It’s the only secular holiday that has any ritualistic meaning – No other day comes with as clear an assignment, or as potent a set of possibilities. It’s the only holiday that forces the question “what change can you make that might make you a happier, better person?”

Over the holidays I read Campbell’s Myths To Live By and one of its points is the role of ritual and tradition in our psychology. They have psychological value to us regardless of faith (Odds are high that any well designed activity that involves atonement, acceptance, forgiveness, or confession is healthy regardless of the brand it comes in). But with the shift to a more secular society, few people replace the possibly beneficial, but religiously themed activities, with new ones. A good community might provide a few, but there is still a debt of ritual and traditional that most of us suffer from.

New years parties date back to 4000 years ago in Mesopotamia (Iraq). The Babylonians and the Romans made promises to their gods on the first day of the year, and some cultures exchanged gifts on New Years day much like many Americans do on Christmas. In the Western world that tradition slowly shifted to being promises made to oneself.

New years day stands alone as a secular American holiday with a positive, self directed, ritual. I used to laugh at people who put resolutions up in their office, or on their refrigerators but now, I ask myself, if I won’t make a resolution, how else will I commit to myself to do something important? If I don’t have a better answer, I better start writing those resolutions.

Many years ago, I came up with my own list of holidays: Scolidays. It included days like silly hat day, movie marathon weekend and Do something you’ve never done before day. But 2005, I chickened out, and only did 2 of the 12 days. But how can I complain? Unlike a religion, I’m the one to blame for all the silly traditions :)



10 Responses to “The meaning of New Years Day”

  1. Konrad West

    Yes, you’ll definitely have to list them. How else will you revolutionise secular holidays? ;)

  2. Soyapi

    “So New years day stands alone as a secular American holiday with a positive, self directed, ritual.”

    Why “American”? FYI, it’s a holiday in Malawi too!

  3. Bill Brown

    I *love* the idea of arbitrary, personal holidays. What a profound way to make an ordinary day more interesting.

  4. Scott (admin)

    Actually, I only called it an American holiday since I have no idea about what cool holidays other nations celebrate – didn’t want to criticize the entire planet (at least not without a good reason).

    I promise to post the Scoliday list once I have it together.

  5. Sunny

    I also feel very strongly about the idea of personal holidays. I think that they can have far more meaning than many of the common holidays that are celebrated.

    I had a brainchild several months ago and created a new personal holiday that I felt was philosophically superior to the commonly celebrated Birthday. It is a celebration of the day (or days) that an individual was personally invented; either through the carefull planning of a parent, or (more likely) through the invention of self.

    My wife and I coined the name “Brainchild Day” and immediately setup a website to describe the concept and host a forum for comments and sharing Brainchild Day stories.

  6. Anita Harris

    New Years is a celebration of the beginning of creations of any sort. A making a way out of no way, just by putting something words and works to be said and done out into existance for public acclaim. For the good hopefully to transform our lives for the better or worse. Because what you say could be used against you thou. So we begin to feel bad if we don’t accomplish what we set out to do. But at least we originated the goals thats a start. And the creation of whatever our minds can magically conquer up!

  7. kathykurpita

    Like your idea very much and will work on my list but for right now, i’ll be doing my new years day buffet to set the spirit of the new year ahead.

    I serve up food that represents every thing I could want, greens for the color of money, symbolizing wealth. Fish for brain food, black-eyed peas in hoppin’John, a classic southern dish that is surpose to bring luck: put a dime in the dish with the peas and you might even guarantee an influx of money all year.



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