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Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Spirit of New Year's

Image Courtesy: globzer.com via Google
When the sun rises this morning, the birds won't know the difference. Neither will the trees, insects, cats and dogs, or for that matter the rivers, streams and rocks. Even the sun and the earth won't know the difference, which is ironic because all the hullabaloo is because of the earth completing a full revolution around the sun -- they won't know the significance of the specific point on the earth's orbit which we pick as a cut-off for our calendar years. In fact, if we look at it, that point varies across cultures, and many New Year celebrations exist outside the dominant Gregorian calendar system. Even within it, time zone differences mean that the same moment is not shared as the defining one between revellers across the globe. Sad, isn't it? It can almost make one feel that this entire New Year ruckus means nothing. Yet, New Year's festivities constitute one of the earliest kinds of celebrations in the history of human civilization. This tells us that, aside from noticing the repetitive nature of season cycles and using it as a measure of time, humans have felt the need to document and commemorate their entire lives in terms of this cycle: appraising their lives in terms of tasks accomplished in one such cycle, and treating each one as a new chance at the same seasons and the same conditions, providing ample scope for alteration and improvement based on lessons learnt from the bygones. The reason we love New Year's Day so much is that it represents fresh chances -- which, while invigorating, is not entirely true, because in our complex lives, not everything comes back every year.
No one knows who first decided to celebrate the periodic repetition of weather conditions. I like to think that someone sitting in a prehistoric cave felt cold, or hot, and started counting days until the same feeling returned after an intervening period of different weather of all kinds, and then noticed that it is regular. I like to think that this realization of regularity was quickly followed by a realization of the finality of hope -- a realization that no matter what, favourable times and weather conditions will return, and that long winters and long summers are actually never longer than stipulated, and that the worst will always pass -- and thus New Year's Day was born. The flip side, though, is that the same person probably also realized that just like the worst, the best will also not stay for long.
Amidst this New Year revelry, I would like to be the voice of reason, and point out that while motivating oneself using New Year's hope, and pledging to make changes, and of course having fun, are all very well, one must recognize that changes are never made abruptly at the stroke of midnight, opportunities do not replicate themselves year after year, and that New Year's actually signifies time passed -- time lost, not time gained. So, while it is wonderful that we are the only species on this planet hopeful (and intelligent) enough to celebrate New Year's Day, it is perhaps prudent to understand that the exact day does not matter as much as the idea of it does. We could pick any random day in the year for this. In multicultural India, we already have a bunch of different New Year celebrations. What they all have in common is the human intention of appraisal and improvement -- an idea that, while reinforced on this festival day, should permeate our lives every day.
To put it differently, we don't know at which point the earth started revolving around the sun. We don't know at which point our planet was when the first life form or the first human was born. We have no decisive zero from which to start measuring our years. Which means that, if we want it to, every day marks the beginning of a new year in some sense: maybe not as 'Happy' a new year, but a new year nonetheless! So I say, let New Years' Day be less about the day itself, and more about the spirit of human hope and our constant efforts not just to survive, but to live and live well, as individuals and as a species. Let 1st January be a day to honour Time, the only resource beyond our control -- let it be about making fruitful negotiations with Time to make the best of its fleeting nature.
In short, we can't party every night, but let tonight's party be an expression of a yearlong drive to make Time give us all it can, preferably make it suffer for all the limitations it places on us -- because we humans are boss like that! So do keep smiling, keep working for the better, and be grateful for the opportunity to understand New Year's -- unlike the birds, the animals and the trees, who will never know why none of us are sleeping tonight. Happy 2015!

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