New Year’s Eve approaches, which means we’ve arrived once again at a point in the Earth’s orbit where we’ve collectively decided that one year will end and a new one begin. Scientifically, rationally, the changeover means absolutely nothing. But when the ball drops and we clink our champagne glasses and – if we’re lucky – kiss our special someone, the charge of emotion in the air and in our hearts will be unmistakable.
I can’t think of a more iconic example of what humanity is all about than the dichotomy of meaninglessness and meaning, emotion and reason, magical and rational thinking that is New Year’s Eve.
The calendar has always been arbitrary. To wit: if you’re Samoan, and your birthday happens to be December 30, you’re out of luck this year, because for reasons of trading convenience the island nation is bounding to the opposite side of the international date line, and to accomplish that it needs to skip a day.
Christmas fell on a Sunday this year, a day when many Christians will have been going to church anyway. Convenient, right? Or did the holiday influence your work schedule less pleasantly than it sometimes does? Either way, scientists at Johns Hopkins have proposed a new calendar that would put Christmas (and every other holiday) on the same day of the week each year.
The chances of the world making that switch may be slim, but there’s nothing but custom stopping it. We can’t physically bump the Earth ahead in its orbit, but if some of us make a group decision to change this or that in our numbering scheme of days or months or years, lo, it is done. Just ask Julius Caesar, Pope Gregory – or the Samoans.
The New Year comes when you wish it. During calendar year 2012 we can celebrate the Chinese New Year, the Jewish New Year, and so forth. But for now let’s welcome 2012 – a year in which we hope the world will become a slightly better place, and also of course, for better and for worse, another year of magical thinking.