Thursday, December 29, 2011
Remember when I was talking last week about how much I love Christmas?
That's how much I hate New Year's Eve. When the clock strikes midnight, I plan to be fast asleep.
Spare me the sight of those drunken revelers at Times Square screaming their heads off for what is basically a non-event.
VE Day I can understand. VJ Day I can understand. Ditto for election night 2008 and the death of Osama Bin Laden. All of them were real events, and well worth celebrating.
But New Year's Eve is just turning a page in the calendar. What's the big deal?
Besides, until 400 years ago there was no consensus that January 1 should be the beginning of the year. During the Middle Ages, New Year's Day was all over the place: March 25 in England, Easter Sunday in France, and Christmas Day - celebrated on December 15 - in Italy.
When you think about it, January 1 doesn't make much sense. The logical time is spring, when the flowers are blooming, the animals are bearing their young and the farmers are planting their crops. New year, get it?
And that's the way it was for centuries, since the dawn of recorded history. It never occurred to anybody that January 1 might be a good day to begin the year.
So what changed it? Politics.
Back in ancient Rome, the politicians kept fiddling with the calendar, adding several days to each month to extend their terms in office. By Julius Caesar's time, calendar dates were so out of whack with their astronomical benchmarks, he had to let the year 46 B.C. drag on for 445 days to reset the calendar. He began the next year with January 1. (And while he was at it, he named a month - July - after himself.)
Unfortunately, coming so soon after Christmas, New Year's is a huge anticlimax.
Christmas is warm and fuzzy. New Year's Eve is cold and glitzy. Christmas is giving gifts and making children happy. New Year's Eve is drinking and forced bonhomie.
Christmas is about being with the people you love. New Year's Eve is about the haunting fear of being alone. So we distract ourselves by making noise and embracing total strangers.
And who says the next year will necessarily be any better than the last one? It rarely is, and next year doesn't show any signs of being an exception.
We're going into a presidential election year, and I truly fear where the bitterness of the last three years is going to take us.
But there are a few hopeful omens. The retailers had a better Christmas than expected, and charitable giving was also up.
And I'm encouraged by the emergence of the Millennial generation as a political force, although I hope they'll learn from the mistake my generation made in the 1960s and not allow their movement to be hijacked by violent thugs like the Weathermen and the Simbionese Liberation Army in my day or the black-masked anarchists of today.
So, against my better judgment, I'm going to keep my fingers crossed and trust that we can still rise above our recent history and come together for the sake of our country.
Then it really will be a happy new year.
I hope your 2012 is a healthy, happy and prosperous one. And as Mark Twain observed, "Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual."