Wednesday 5 January 2011

New Year - the significance of this meaningless ritual


The New Year is a meaningless celebration and wishing people a Happy New Year is a meaningless activity.

So why do we all do it? Increasingly?


That January 1st is meaningless is pretty indisputable - yes the year is an astronomical reality, but the 'new' year begins on 22 December, surely?

Or, the religious year starts on different days for different religions, but in Christian countries it would presumably be either on Christmas or Easter day.

Or, the financial year starts on April 1, or the educational year starts in (variously) September or October.

In Scotland, Hogmanay is celebrated as an assertion of not-being-English; however, the real Scottishness celebration is Burns Night (25 January) Robert Burns Birthday.

But nothing happens on January 1st.


Why then do we celbrate this meaningless numerical change?

Precisely because it is meaningless.

(Because anything meaning-full risks giving some kind of offense to someone or another.)


And this the point of New Year - it is an arbitrary celebration of pointlessness, which makes it ideal for meaningless modern celebrations - and a close ally of 'happy holidays' and the marking of other-peoples unbelieved-in religious rituals which is so much part of modern schools in the West.


So elaborate New Year celebrations are a perfect encapsulation of political correctness: a veritable festival of nihilism.



dearieme said...

"In Scotland, Hogmanay is celebrated as an assertion of not-being-English": that's rubbish. It's just that Hogmanay is one of the Scottish traditional breakers-up of a long winter. Hallowe'en, Guy Fawkes Night, St Andrew's Night (the least of these affairs), Hogmanay, Burns' Night,and then a bit of egg-rolling at Easter. Christmas simply didn't figure until my boyhood; I can remember my father being noted as a liberal employer when he started giving his employees Christmas afternoon off. It was sentimental pressure from the BBC, and the resulting pester power, that brought the German-American Christmas to Scotland.

Bruce Charlton said...

Ah - but this only shows how far back the arbitrary celebration of nihilism goes in Scotland: long predating your childhood; and presumably relating to some atavistic puritanical instinct (e.g. wishing to dissociate the midwinter feast from Christmas).

Bruce Charlton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Until your boyhood! Dearieme, you really must forgive me for having assumed all this time that you were a woman.

dearieme said...

Forgive you? Never. Sword or pistol, sir?

Ironmistress said...

Ummm... what happens to a Jewish boy eight days after his birth?

It is the brith milah of Jesus.

Daniel said...

I disagree. While your points are valid, your conclusion is not.

One could (and "one" does... namely me!) consider the arbitrariness of New Year's Day to be somewhat beautiful and worth celebrating.

People are celebrating — often without realizing it, it is true — the eternally renewed character of the world. I view New Year's as a secular echo of Christmas and, to a lesser degree, the solstice (and it's no coincidence the two are so near each other). In the darkest, coldest days of winter, we celebrate a new light and a new rebirth.

Yes, New Year's is arbitrary, and yes it's just a number (and not the birth of the Savior), but it's a recognition of profound truth nevertheless.

If New Year's is meaningless, all secular traditions are meaningless. One can very well make this argument, and it seems to me true, as far as it goes.

But secularism is there whether we like it or not. There's a mysticism in New Year's Day (and especially New Year's Eve) that has the potential to move the heart. Compared to Christmas, it's impossibly hollow yes. But for people who have no faith at all, I think it can keep alive that vague feeling that something is going on here. Rather than view it as degraded religion, I submit we should view it as a gateway holiday.

The endgame of secular nihilism is a world where nothing has any meaning and every day and every year is exactly the same monotony as the one before. I'll take the secular, midwinter bacchanalia over the drear of 1984 any day.

Or am I splitting hairs?