I have a hard time getting excited about New Year’s Day.
If you say “Happy New Year 2015,” that isn’t exactly what I hear. I hear something along the lines of “Today, the earth has completed precisely two thousand and fifteen revolutions since the annual festival of Janus (Roman god of doors) that took place in the year of the birth of Jesus, according to one incorrect estimate. Plus or minus a few days because of calendar confusion.”
(The date January 1 was picked for New Year’s Day because the new year seemed to go with the two-faced (literally) god who looked both ahead and behind. So that’s what happened on January 1 whatever number of years ago. The number of the year, as opposed to the date, is of course counting from Jesus’ birth, except that it miscounted.)
With all that error and estimation, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to count down the minutes. It’s like the old joke about the man who works in a museum and describes the dinosaur bones as “eighty million and two years, six months old, because they were eighty million years old when I started working here two and a half years ago.” And by “like that joke” I mean “exactly as wrong for exactly the same reason.”
When you can tell me when Jesus was born down to the minute, then this holiday would make more sense. If you want to launch fireworks precisely when Anno Domini 2014 changes to Anno Domini 2015, the least you can do is do it precisely 2014 years after the birth of the lord in question. Using approximations and guesswork and then reporting the answer as if it’s precise is frowned upon. By me, if nobody else.
Of course, you can argue that nobody is celebrating revolutions of the earth or anything to do with Janus. They’re just celebrating the year 2015. They’re enjoying watching that number increment by one and most of them aren’t thinking about what it’s counting from. Which is kind of my point. The date and the year number, and the year length if you have some perspective which most people don’t, are excessively arbitrary, so I tend to not care much about this kind of thing in general.
Most holidays have this problem, some worse than others. I think along these lines every holiday or birthday, but New Year’s Day is the only one that actively celebrates it. (Except birthdays. And anniversaries of national independence or, for that matter, anything else. And probably lots of other things.) OK, I’ll amend that to say that New Year’s Day is the only one that does nothing except actively celebrate it. Other holidays might celebrate a discrete whole number of years since something important happened, but then there’s at least some important thing to celebrate. New Year’s Day is celebrating nothing but the fact of a discrete whole number of years. Which is way too arbitrary on way too many levels.
Of course, some holidays are better than others. I even enjoy some of them. Christmas happens at an arbitrary time, but at least nobody acts like its location in the calendar is some innate law of the universe. And at least Christmas is celebrating something notable instead of just counting years. (If you’re a Christian. If not, then it’s almost as bad as New Year’s.) So despite what you might be thinking, I’m not actually the Grinch.
Actually, I could probably model my grinchiness as a function of time around the year. It’d be unusually high during whenever all the Christmas songs start playing (“If you pick an arbitrary date, you could at least stick to it!”) but by December I don’t mind because it’s close enough to the Christmas season and I really don’t hate Christmas. Then a few days afterward people start celebrating one of my pet peeves, and I get a lot grinchier quickly.
The global maximum occurs in mid-February. Nobody seems to be able to tell me why it’s important that the number of days since I was born is divisible by 365 (+/- 1), and on one particular day around then it’s nearly impossible to get away from. And Valentine’s Day has an arbitrary date plus no obvious connection to Valentine, so I’m already primed around that time of year to be as much of a grinch as possible. Other than February, though, New Year’s Day is the high point on that graph.
The traditional way to celebrate a new year is to make a resolution. This is so that you can belatedly realize that you broke it and resolve to do better next time. Or you could try something more entertaining: “I resolve to keep this resolution.” “I resolve not to keep this resolution.” “I resolve to hold to this resolution for half the year, then half of the remaining six months, then half of what’s left, and so on for eternity without ever actually succeeding.” “I resolve to keep the New Year’s Resolution of anyone who does not keep their own resolution.”
But I’m going to go with something more normal. I noticed that whenever I’m pacing, it’s almost always counterclockwise. So my resolution is to pace clockwise sometimes. (I said more normal, not actually normal.) You probably think that’s ridiculously unambitious, but at least I’m going to keep mine. Don’t worry, it doesn’t mean that I’ve been replaced with an alternate-universe version of me who is made of antimatter and therefore evil. That doesn’t even make sense. I’m just trying to be more symmetrical. Janus would approve.
Anyway, happy anniversary of the festival of the god of doors.