Happy New Year, everyone! Unless you’re in Cwn Gwaun, a village in Wales that still celebrates according the Julian calendar and observes New Year’s Day on January 13. Or in China, where the New Year starts somewhere between January 20 and February 20, depending on the moon. Nowruz is the first day of the New Year in the Persian Calendar, celebrated on or about March 21 in places throughout Central Asia. In Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, and many parts of India, the New Year begins in mid-April. The Ethiopian New Year’s Day is normally on September 11. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, starts on September 13 this year, but can take place as late as October. The Islamic New Year also moves from year to year, and will take place this year on October 13.
So many New Year’s Days! Is there really anything special about January 1? Despite the hoopla, is there any reason to take this day in particular to reflect upon where we are, what we have accomplished, and what we would like to accomplish in the next 365 days? You might be justified in thinking that, except for the party last night and the special TV programming, today is no different from any other day – no more promising, and no less mundane.
Statistically, maybe this is true, at least with respect to our careers. Personally, I’ve felt both highs and lows at New Year: I started 2007 desperate to find a new job, and 2012 jubilant to have just started a new job a week earlier. But I’ve had feelings like those in the summer, too, and it’s not as if the turning of the New Year has consistently offered me unusual promise or specific possibilities. I have always been in the same position, in every relevant sense, on January 1 that I was in on December 31. Very likely, the same is true for you, too. Perhaps you are rising this morning, unimpressed already with 2015, considering the return of the work week tomorrow or Monday, and thinking that January 1 is no different from January 13, or March 21, or October 13.
And you’re right. It’s not. The calendar does not just hand you prizes for making it to a certain date. There’s no reason to believe that this 365-day period is going to deliver you anything special, just because it is one year later than the last 365-day period. There is nothing magical about the moment; that’s why the New Year is celebrated on so many different days around the world.
But it is celebrated around the world. Because it’s not the date that makes the difference. It’s the celebration. It’s the concept of renewal and resolution, and the recognition that every day and every year could end up being a series of identical monotonous ticks on the countdown clock to mortality unless we choose to make something else of them. If we don’t want, at the end of our lives, to wake from the tedium and look back on a life of dissatisfaction and lost opportunities, then we need now to take the time every year to look forward, to recognize what we could do and to imagine how we could do it. Humanity has long recognized that if New Year’s Day did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it.
So don’t waste the New Year! Welcome 2015 for what it really is: a brand new set of twelve months, just waiting to be shaped and enjoyed and transformed. Think about the coming year, and give yourself the freedom to consider what you would like to achieve, and imagine the pathways you might take to do so. New Year’s Day offers us only what every other day offers us: possibility. But at least it reminds us specially that that possibility exists.