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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Is New Year's the greatest holiday?

I’ve never thought much about New Year’s as a holiday, and when I have, it’s mostly struck me as a second-tier holiday, closer to Labor Day than to Thanksgiving. (Nothing against Labor Day, but for most people, myself included, it’s pretty much just a day off in late summer, not a day with much special relevance of its own.) But as it approaches this year, I've been thinking that New Year’s (Eve and Day, jointly) might be the perfect holiday. Consider its virtues:

  1. In different ways, it encourages both socializing and introspection.
  2. As to its social/festive dimension, you are encouraged to share the day (or, at least, the eve) with others, but you can choose whom you want to spend it with.
  3. Immoderate eating and drinking are condoned (within reasonable bounds, of course), but there’s no set menu. If you’re not into turkey, pumpkin pie, candy corn, chocolate bunnies, latkes, eggnog, or whatever, no worries. (One might, however, detect a slight pro-Champagne bias vis-a-vis tippling at the particular moment of midnight, and perhaps more generally. I’m not a huge sparkling-wine person myself, but neither do I spurn it if offered, so I’m pretty much OK with this.) I guess teetotalers might consider the holiday to have an overall bias in favor of alcohol consumption, making strict abstinence a little socially uncomfortable. But again, you can decide who you’re spending the holiday with, so any such concern can be mitigated by your choice of evening companions.
  4. The holiday can also be an occasion for romance if that’s your preference (and if the option is available to you), but it doesn’t revolve around relationships. So it’s possible to skip out on partying in favor of a quiet evening at home, and also possible to go out and celebrate if you're unattached. Indeed, a festive holiday gathering might provide an opportunity to meet someone -- and not just a random person, but a friend of a friend, with whatever degree of quality-control that might indicate (though that might introduce its own issues, too)
  5. As to the holiday’s more reflective dimension, it encourages both looking back and looking forward: remembrance of past times and the dear departed (the theme of “Auld Lang Syne,” if I understand that song); self-assessment and contemplation of how to make yourself a better person; and hopefulness about what might be in the future. I’d say that message, or agenda, stands up pretty well against any other holiday’s, secular or spiritual. And of course, New Year’s is an ecumenical holiday, open to all.
  6. No gift exchanges, hence no gift-related stress and/or awkwardness.
  7. Football!

New Year’s seems almost ideal, subject to the important caveat that you need to avoid spending the day itself nursing an atomic hangover. Also, if you have small children (as I do), they won’t be sleeping in just because you were up late, and that’s a problem. Come to think of it, maybe “the end of Daylight Saving Time” is the perfect holiday ...

Happy New Year, everyone!

Posted by Michael Cahill on December 31, 2008 at 02:55 PM in Culture | Permalink


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It's interesting that you think it perfect because of how much choice it affords in deciding how to celebrate it. Very many of your categories reflect the freedom to celebrate it as one wills (with family or without, "immoderate eating and drinking" allowed, but not required -- by the way, what would it mean to demand immoderate eating...?, romantic or platonic, as one likes). There are few "requirements" (not that anything, strictly speaking, is a requirement when it comes to celebrating holidays, but there are few traditional demands made of New Year's Eve). But all that formless easiness makes it, at least for me, one of my least favorite holidays. Happy New Year!

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Dec 31, 2008 5:30:05 PM

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