By Willow (willowashmaple.xyz)
Every year, around the middle of November, I go to Dollar Tree and get a calendar. Except for 2023, it has always been a cat calendar. (The cat ones were out of stock in 2022.) Calendars are something people still buy, in paper form, and they are also often given away by businesses as a way of advertising. Even though, it feels like most people manage their schedules digitally, on their apps, or by using a Web-based calendar. As an 80's kid, I remember Filofax and its numerous copycats. Then came a primitive "digital organizers," with a small, narrow LCD display and a tiny keyboard that rather resembled a scientific calculator. This evolved into PDAs, such as Palm Pilot, by the end of the 1990s. It would be another 10 years before the first smartphone, Apple iPhone, created a sensation.
January 1 is such an odd day to start a new year. It feels very arbitrary to me. In many ancient cultures, a year began either in spring or autumn. Chinese Lunar New Year begins in early spring. In the Torah, the month of Nisan (which is spring) is the beginning of each year (Exodus 12:2), although another New Year, Rosh Hashanah, is also celebrated in early fall. It is said that the ancient Celts celebrated the start of their new year on the cross-quarter day between the Autumnal Equinox and Winter Solstice. They all make sense, as these new years are connected to astronomy and agriculture.
But January 1? Why does our year begin roughly two weeks after the Winter Solstice? In the dead of the winter? And exactly a week after Western Christmas?
It doesn't seem like we really think it's a good idea at all: the United States government's fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, and most American schools begin in August or September. In Canada, Hong Kong, India, and Japan, their fiscal year begins on April 1. New Zealand begins its fiscal year on July 1.
Whether spring or fall, it seems to be more connected to nature. But there isn't anything special about Jan. 1, except perhaps that it concludes the annual madness of our "Holiday Season" that begins now shortly after Labor Day when Halloween stuff goes up in-store displays. A week after Christmas, we are thoroughly "holiday-ed out," exhausted from travels, family and friends, and that great American consumer spending -- the perennial barometer of the nation's economic health (don't mind how much of this is being put on credit cards, and how many merchandises end up being returned the day after Christmas).
Catholics and Anglicans today observe a rather obscure feast day, the Holy Name's Day. Since it is the eighth day of Christmas, it is said that Jesus was circumcised and named on this day (although, many biblical scholars think Jesus was born in early fall, perhaps during the week of Sukkot).
Jan. 1 feels very artificial. It's just as artificial as many people's "New Year resolutions" that are quickly forgotten in a few weeks. And it's a day that lacks, at least in the United States, meaningful rituals -- the closest thing that resembles a ritual is the ball drop at Times Square.
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