That Time of Year

Like many of my fellow human beings, I love assigning significance to arbitrary dates. For many of us, the last one of those dates was Christmas, and next up is New Year’s Eve.

There’s nothing inherently special about December 31 and January 1, or even about midnight, that sets them apart from other dates and times. There’s nothing different about the way the Earth moves around the Sun or about its axis that night, yet long ago someone decided that December 31 would be The End of the Last Year and January 1 would be The Beginning of the New Year.

And, like a lot of us, I’ll play along with this assigning of importance and carry out the tradition of making resolutions.

I’ll promise myself that I’ll write every day. I’ll take more pictures. I’ll be more spontaneous, I’ll emulate the thoughts of this post, I’ll be more present in the moment rather than absorbed in my anxieties about the future. I’ll be better next year.

But like I said, nothing actually sets January 1 apart from other dates to make it the beginning of a new year. It might as well begin on March 13, or August 27, or any other date. Every date is a year apart from the one that happened last time. For all intents and purposes, I could celebrate the New Year any day I wanted (and it’s already well-known that other cultures have their own calendars and their own new year beginnings).

Does this mean we shouldn’t celebrate New Year’s Eve when we do, or at all?

I would say no. Like I mentioned, people like assigning importance to arbitrary things. It gives us a sense of order. The new year, and it’s tradition of resolutions, gives those who celebrate it a chance to refresh, to put aside old regrets and set out once more with a clean slate. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But there is a downside. Putting all the pressure of restarting on one day, and challenging ourselves to carry out hopeful resolutions for a full year, makes it all the more difficult to actually succeed, and all the more disappointing when we fall short of those goals. The first time next year that I have a busy day or feel sick or unmotivated and don’t write will be crushing. I’ll have just ruined my efforts for a better me in 2016. I’ll be doomed to wait until the next year to start over untainted by my failure.

It’s unfair to expect ourselves to change overnight. While it’s great to have a day to kick-start progress, it’s unhelpful to restrict new beginnings to one day. If we truly want to see the kind of progress that we promise ourselves on January 1, we need to be more forgiving. Like I said, every date is a year away from the last time it occurred. Every day can be a chance to start over, to forget about past failures and move forward with a clean slate. Every day can be New Year’s Day.

So, Happy December 29! What will you do to celebrate?


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