This Is What We’re Really Celebrating on New Year’s Day
“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.”
—Edith Lovejoy Pierce
This morning, my sweet little blue friend, Witchy, twirled into my cottage (her usual exuberant entrance).
“Liberty! I heard that today is New Year’s Eve!”
“Yes, Witchy, that’s right.”
“And I heard it’s something special!” she exclaimed, eagerly. Since her traumatic experience that forced her to leave the Transylvania Forest, she has been learning about a whole new way of life in England.
“Well, sort of. It depends on how you look at it.”
She stopped twirling and stared at me.
“I don’t know how to look at it.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m not sure what it is. So I don’t know what to look at. Is it in a box? Do I need a ladder?” Her eyes darted around my kitchen.
“It just means that tomorrow is the first day of a new year.”
“A new year?”
“Uh…” She cocked her head to one side and raised an eyebrow at me. “I don’t understand.”
“What don’t you understand?”
“What’s a year?”
“It’s usually a 365-day period. Actually, it’s slightly more, so every four years we add an extra day.”
“You keep track of 365-day periods of time?”
“Mm-hmm. Except when it’s 366.”
Frowning, Witchy was obviously confused.
“That’s kind of a dumb number. Well, they’re both dumb numbers. What’s wrong with all the other ones? Why not 419 days? Or 8,762? Or 12? I like 12.”
“It’s because that’s how long it takes the earth to travel around the sun.”
“What’s that got to do with anything? And why would anyone care about it?”
“It’s a way to give structure to periods of time. It helps everyone know what’s happening and when. Like, when to work, when it’s time for holidays, or to remember certain dates.”
“I sure don’t want to remember any dates I ever had with Vladmir the Vampire!”
“I know, Witchy. He wasn’t very nice to you. He was a terrible boyfriend.”
“Pinhead,” she said, a tad grumpily. I didn’t blame her.
“Yes, he was. But that’s not the kind of dates I meant.”
“Do you mean the eating kind? What have those got to do with going around the sun? And why would you want to remember when you ate them?”
“No, Witchy. I mean dates on a calendar. It’s like naming all the days in a year — the 365 — or 366-day period. Then we can all have a reference point to figure out what we’re doing and everyone understands when it will happen. Or when something did happen.”
Witchy was quiet for a few moments.
“You look puzzled, Witchy.”
“Oh, okay.” I love her little Witchy-isms.
“We never paid attention to that stuff in the Transylvania Forest. The vampires only cared if it was nighttime. The other witches and I paid attention to the cycles of the moon and the planets. We celebrated the changing seasons, that sort of thing. But we never had a colander.”
“Isn’t that what I said?”
“No. You said colander.”
“It sounds the same.”
“What’s the difference?”
“A colander is a bowl with holes in it.”
“A bowl with holes in it?”
“Why is that dumb?”
“How is it supposed to hold your soup?”
“It’s not that kind of a bowl.”
“English is dumb.”
“Well, yes, sometimes. Anyway, do you understand about calendars?”
“Well, I know they are not soup bowls. Or bowls with holes. And they have dates you can’t eat.”
“That’s all true.”
“But I still don’t know what they have to do with New Year’s Eve.”
“Oh, right. Well, each 365-day period — or 366 in Leap Years — ”
“Leap Years?” Witchy gasped in alarm. “Do you have to leap for a whole year? Can’t you walk? Or skip? I love skipping.”
“That’s just what they call those years where they add an extra day. I could tell you why they’re called that but it’s kind of a long story. It’ll just confuse you right now. I can tell you another time.”
“Whew! Okay. A leap year sounds scary and I’m already afraid of enough things. But don’t tell anyone!”
“I never do, Witchy.”
“Ew.” Her whole little blue body shuddered.
“I think you do very well with your phobia about spiders. I mean, you have that giant one on your hat.”
“Yes. That’s my desensitisation therapy. I know it’s up there but I don’t have to look at it.”
“Anyway, as I was saying…each 365-day period — ”
“ — yes — or 366 — is called a year.”
“Who decided when it starts? Did somebody just pick a random day and say, ‘Okay, this looks like a good place! Go!’ and then they started keeping track?”
“Oh, no, Witchy. It was proclaimed by Pope Gregory the XIII in 1582 — that’s the name of one particular year — and it’s actually a long, very complicated story. It’ll definitely fry your brains if I try to explain that today.”
“Fry my brains??” Her blue hands flew to cover the sides of her head.
“Not really. It’s a figure of speech.”
Placing her hands on her hips, she tossed her head and rolled her eyes.
“That’s a terrible one.”
“I suppose you’re right. Anyway, on the last day of each year, we celebrate that it’s ending, and that a new one will begin the next day. A lot of people get dressed up and have big parties. There’s lots of drinking and eating and dancing. And a lot of hangovers the next day.”
“Uh…yeah. After too much alcohol.”
“Well, it’s a kind of drink. And if you have a lot, it can make you feel pretty rough the next day. Like how you feel after you’ve had a lot of tequila.”
“I don’t know what tequila has to do with alcohol?”
“What do you mean?”
“Never mind, Witchy.” I couldn’t help but smile at her innocence. “Anyway, sometimes people get kind of crazy and drink a lot of alcohol and have big parties because the next day is the start of a new year.”
“Hmm. I can understand why we used to celebrate Solstice or Equinox and those kinds of events because they mattered to how we lived. I mean, planting and harvesting and that sort of thing. We acknowledged the changing seasons and didn’t need a calendar for that. But without a calendar, how can you tell it’s a new year?”
“Well, you can’t, really.”
“So what are you celebrating?”
“It’s a time to look back over the past year. See where you went wrong, what you did right. Think about what you’d like to do for the next year.”
“I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”— Thomas Jefferson
“We did that every night in the Transylvania Forest. We reflected on the previous day and thought about how to do better the next day.”
“That would probably be a lot more useful. But people make a big fuss about the end of one year and the beginning of another.”
“Does it help them in some way?”
“Well, perhaps. I guess some more than others, although people aren’t generally great at change so it doesn’t take long into the new year and they’re already sliding back to their old ways.”
“If they know they’re going to do that, why do they bother celebrating?”
“I suppose they’re hopeful, Witchy. Sometimes they’re chasing dreams that they hope will come true. A lot of the time, it’s just that they’d really like to do better in the new year.”
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”— Eleanor Roosevelt
“But nothing much changes?”
“Sadly, for the most part, I think that’s probably true.”
“Hm. Do they use the same calendar over and over again?”
“No, the dates will be on different days from the previous one. So they need a new calendar every year.”
“So the calendar changes but the people don’t?”
“Mostly, yeah, I guess so.”
I could see the wheels turning as she contemplated my words.
“Thank you for all your explaining, Liberty. I think I’ve figured out what New Year’s Eve is.”
“Really? That’s great, Witchy!” I was relieved. I like to give her enough information so she understands her new environment but I don’t want to overwhelm her with too much, either.
“Yes. I’ve got it. Tonight, people will go crazy and drink lots and have big parties because they need a new calendar.”
“Uhh…yeah. I guess that about sums it up.”
She shook her head and rolled her eyes once more.
“Things made so much more sense in the Forest.”
READ: How To Know If You’re Disguising Grief With Anger
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