Tuesday 23 January 2018

A chance to celebrate, whatever the date...

Confession box inside an italian church.
Confession box inside an italian church.

Fiona O'Connell

The New Year is less than a week away. Plenty of folk in this country town are lying low - or laid low, as the case might be, after an excess of Christmas cheer.

They are gearing up to celebrate all over again - this time in hopeful honour of a happy new year.

Yet in reality nothing much will actually change, except for a digit in the date at the top of this page. It will be just another day, as remarkable or ordinary as any other.

Hardly surprising, given that the date is not some indisputable truth that is carved in stone. The ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians and Persians began their new year with the autumnal equinox, while the Greeks celebrated on the winter solstice. We were also ahead of the game in Celtic Ireland, kicking it off in November.

In fact, our New Year is really a Roman holiday (though not the movie version starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck). It dates back to the time of Julius Caesar and stems from the feast of Janus - the Roman god of doorways and beginnings.

Medieval Europeans considered it so pagan that the holiday was shifted around to what were considered more suitable dates. Including the equally fabricated one of Christmas Day and the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25.

That said, early January is a logical choice for us in the Northern Hemisphere, as we have passed the shortest day of the year and can look forward to more light from now on. What's more, Earth is always closest to the sun in its yearly orbit around this time.

But even if the New Year is a brand, it is arguably a much needed one. For while it may be symbolic, many of us experience a genuine psychological shift. Meaning the change is more in our minds than the month.

Maybe it's the influence of Catholicism, with its cleansing concept of confession. For a new year represents a clean slate - which is the closest we get to starting over. Because even if it's true that life isn't a dress rehearsal, surely many of us (at times at least) wish it were.

So many turns of phrases lament our lack of a second chance. The 'if onlys' and 'what ifs', not to mention the fairly redundant and sometimes painful understanding afforded by hindsight. "If I knew then what I know now," many ruefully mutter.

And while it makes for a catchy tune, I couldn't personally declare that I've no regrets. But then again, much of the good in our lives comes about through seemingly random twists of fate. And would we really do things differently if it meant running the risk of losing those we love?

So just as a birthday is our personal new year, perhaps the one for the year ahead should be viewed in much the same way. Except you get a present every day of it. And - fingers crossed - too many candles to ever blow out.

Sunday Independent

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