How do you write a story about a topic that has been written about a thousand times? Well first you sit staring at a blank sheet of paper on your screen trying to think about a theme that may interest your readers. After about a dozen false starts, you give up and just go online to start researching everything you can find about the topic of New Year’s. History, resolutions, events and traditions around the world. You hope that your research will lead to some inspiration that allows you to pull together facts about this holiday into some type of coherent theme for your story. When that doesn’t happen, it becomes obvious that your best bet is to just use random thoughts about New Year’s in general.
Well the first random thought about 2020 was that we’re entering a new decade, right? Nope! 1 January 2021 starts the new decade. Next year on December 31, 2020 this decade ends. Although we tend to think the years ending in zero begin a new decade, actually the years that end with a 1 begin the next decade. Confusing right? Does that mean the Roaring 1920s should actually be the roaring 1921s? Actually no. When folks refer to 1960s or 1980s they are generally referring to the history and events that define a ten-year period. The difference in usage accounts for my confusion at least but now I know technically the difference between the start and end of a decade. Like my New Year’s resolutions, I’ll forget all about that difference sometime early next year!
Am I the only one who makes a New Year’s resolution and often fails to carry them out? Maybe it’s human nature because we all have something we want to improve. Lose weight. Quit smoking. Eat healthier. Be kinder. Get out of debt. Whatever. According to Forbes.com, an estimated 40 percent of people make New Year’s resolutions but only 8 percent actually achieve their goals. What causes that? Their article suggested that part of the problem is our resolutions are too big. For example – I might resolve that I'm going to get out of debt in 2020. That’s a worthy goal for anybody right? But stuff happens in life. We have competing priorities. The car breaks down and has to be replaced or an unexpected medical situation arises. So, perhaps my big goal of being debt free next year can’t be realized. So, a suggestion is to make a smaller, more achievable goal. Perhaps my goal for 2020 should be to reduce my debt by 20 percent instead of being debt free. That’s likely more achievable and if I exceed my goal all the better.
Did you know that New Year’s wasn’t always the first of January? Well according to the History.com editors, it actually started over 4,000 years ago in ancient Babylon. For them the celebration of a new year was the first new moon following the vernal equinox which is a day in late March where you have an equal amount of sunlight and darkness. Like so many holidays in ancient times, the was a harvest and religiously connected event. Jan. 1 became New Year’s Day during Julius Caesar’s reign in 46 B.C. when he realigned the Roman Calendar to align with the sun and introduced the Julian Calendar to the old world. It’s remained Jan. 1 ever since except for a short period of time when Christian leaders in medieval Europe attempted to replace it with more religiously connected dates. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII reestablished January 1 as New Year’s Day and so it has remained since.
Did you grow up like me watching Dick Clark drop the New Year’s ball in Times Square? Do you still watch the ball drop there and from cities around the world on television? Ooh and ah the fireworks? How about New Year’s parties? Do you host or attend them? Do you sing “Auld Lang Syne” and kiss your significant other at the stroke of midnight? Or are you one of those who watched the ball drop in a different time zone and are now sound asleep when midnight strikes 12 in your time zone?
What other traditions are there surrounding the beginning of a new year? Some I found interesting during my research for this story involved food. Again, thanks to the editors at History.com, here are some you may not have heard about. For example, “in Spain and several other Spanish-speaking countries, people bolt down a dozen grapes-symbolizing their hopes for the months ahead-right before midnight.” Another came from Sweden and Norway. There they have rice pudding with an almond hidden inside. The dish is served on New Year’s Eve and it’s believed that the person who “finds the nut can expect 12 months of good fortune.” Yet another was the serving of ring-shaped cakes and pastries. This was to symbolize the year had come full circle. This food tradition is seen in Greece, the Netherlands, Mexico and elsewhere.
The Times Square traditional ball drop has competing drops or raisings in other cities around the nation. For example, LEGOLAND in Florida has a brick drop while Mobil, Alabama has a Moon Pie drop. It shouldn’t surprise you that Dillsburg, Pa. has a pickle drop or that Hampton, Va. has a giant crab drop at the site of the first canned crab packing plant, McMenamin Crab. Instead of dropping something, the folks in Hershey, Pa. lift a seven-foot tall, 300-pound Hershey’s(R) Kiss into the night sky.
There are many more traditions, some that may seem like they are superstitions. For example, in Brazil many believe the color of underwear they wear on the first day of the new year has meaning. Supposedly, white brings peace and happiness while pink brings love and prosperity is brought by the color yellow. You may not hold the same belief, but you might not be faulted for wearing a multi-patterned set of briefs containing yellow, pink, and white colors!
In closing out my random thoughts about this holiday, whatever the reason for your traditions or beliefs, the commonality is that we have an opportunity to have a fresh start. It’s a transition. We reflect on the past year both the good and the bad. We establish our intentions for the new year. To do better. Learn from our mistakes. To go into a new year with boundless opportunities and hopes; to be a better person and improve ourselves, enrich our lives and that of our families and our communities. It’s a great time to forgive others. To let go of our angers and resentments. To establish goals and reflect on what’s really important to us. I wish you all peace and happiness in 2020. May our dreams and hopes come true.