New Year Nonsense - Why Do We Do It?

It's that time again and as the New Year approaches millions of us reflect on the year that's almost gone, and look forward with fresh enthusiasm to the year ahead.  But do we have unrealistic expectations of what is, really, just another day?

You know how there are people who hate Christmas and all the jollity that goes with it?  Well I'm like that about New Year. A Scrooge for the New Year. In honesty that's a bit of an exaggeration, and I'm not sure I hate anything (except, perhaps, courgettes) but this whole New Year New You thing always strikes me as a bit overblown. You see, I've long held the belief that New Year and all the hype that goes with it is something of a con. Not that it isn't a good excuse for a party. And whilst I'm not what you'd call a party animal, I'm certainly not a pooper. But this whole rush towards midnight on New Year's Eve with wild abandon just seems crazy. As if, on the strike of midnight, someone waves a magic wand over all the land and resets the clock. Suddenly, in that instance, we are all transformed into positive, optimistic types capable of anything. Of transforming our lives, of reinventing ourselves, of becoming a 'new person'. That's not to say there is nothing good about New Year, and if you've had a rough old one I can more than understand the desire to put it behind you. It's just that people put so much hope on that one moment, when the clock strikes midnight, that it's simply bound to end in disappointment. Now, I hope you know by now that I'm not some faithless soul. I believe in God, and Father Christmas and on Christmas Eve I still listen for the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof. I just don't believe that a clock can strike and change everything for anyone … unless, perhaps, you're Cinderella.

In fact the whole idea of that one magic moment is moot, since in the Middle Ages countries used all kinds of dates to signify New Year. Christmas Day, the Annunciation and even Easter were used as the start of the year. In England from the 1100s to 1752 the new year began on 25 March which was Lady Day. Not until the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar (to adjust mistakes in previous calendars and so fix Easter in springtime) did 1 January become the universal start of the year in Western Europe. And don't even get me started that New Year starts at a different moment in every different time zone …

This is not to say that I don't 'do' New Year. I spend both New Year's Eve and New Year's Day with loved ones. I mark it because, artificially set or not, it is significant and part of the whole Yuletide festivities. I'm not a misery-guts. But I rarely do the whole 'party like it's 1999' thing. And I fail to understand why, if New Year is so special, why anyone would choose to end one year drunk and begin the next hungover …

Most people, I suspect, don't party-in the New Year. I think that may be a fantasy popularised by films and television shows. Many people, I know, feel that they ought to be doing it because that is what they think everyone else is doing. So it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy, and many of us end up doing exactly what we think we should be doing, rather than what we want to be doing. I'm not suggesting you should go to bed at 11 pm and miss out on the striking of Big Ben (although I've done that in the past and, you know what? The sky didn't actually fall in and I awoke bright-eyed into the new year).  Just don't expect a sudden shift or you'll find, come midnight, a sad sense of anticlimax.

Then there's the whole New Year's Resolutions deal. I can honestly say I've never broken one … largely because I've never made one. Seriously. Never. Oh, I've made plenty of resolutions and promises over the years. There have been many new starts and decisions to stop doing, or start doing something, just never at New Year. You see, I've never felt the compulsion to choose to do something on a specific day. If I want to change something, I just do it, or at least I try to.  And, given that we all know there is no magic wand wiping away all our bad habits and replacing them with good ones. That, ultimately, we alone are responsible for ourselves. And that we have to make the effort to change. Why do we wait for New Year's Day? If we need change so badly, or are so determined, why not do it today? We don't need a magic wand, or a new calendar, we just need to do it!