New Year’s Day 2020

Stephen DeAngelis

January 1, 2020

Welcome to a New Year! If you partied too hard last night, you might not think the new year is starting out on a happy note. You might also not be ready for an existential discussion about time. The late journalist William E. Vaughan once wrote, “An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.” The late Albert Einstein would probably disappoint both optimists and pessimists. He believed the passage of time was an illusion. Sean M. Carroll (@seanmcarroll), a research professor in physics at the California Institute of Technology, reports, “Albert Einstein’s good friend Michele Besso died in 1955, just a few weeks before Einstein’s own death. [Learning of his death,] Einstein wrote a letter to Besso’s family in which he put forward a scientist’s consolation: ‘This is not important. For us who are convinced physicists, the distinction between past, present, and future is only an illusion, however persistent’.”[1]

 

Carroll continues, “The idea that time is an illusion is an old one, predating any Times Square ball drop or champagne celebrations. It reaches back to the days of Heraclitus and Parmenides, pre-Socratic thinkers who are staples of introductory philosophy courses. Heraclitus argued that the primary feature of the universe is that it is always changing. Parmenides, foreshadowing Einstein, countered by suggesting that there was no such thing as change. Put into modern language, Parmenides believed the universe is the set of all moments at once. The entire history of the universe simply is. … This ‘timeless’ view of the universe goes against our usual thinking. We perceive our lives as unfolding. … At issue is whether each subsequent moment is brought into existence from the previous moment by the passage of time.” In other words, did New Year’s Eve really usher in New Year’s Day? If the notion of timelessness boggles your mind, you might want to continue drinking in the New Year. Carroll admits he doesn’t have all the answers and concludes, “I know what it means to grow older or to celebrate an anniversary whether or not time is ‘fundamental.’ And either way, I can still wish people a Happy New Year in good conscience.”

 

The folks at Wilstar note, “New Year’s is one of the oldest holidays still celebrated, but the exact date and nature of the festivities has changed over time. It originated thousands of years ago in ancient Babylon, celebrated as an eleven day festival on the first day of spring. During this time, many cultures used the sun and moon cycle to decide the ‘first’ day of the year. It wasn’t until Julius Caesar implemented the Julian calendar that January 1st became the common day for the celebration.”[2] In other words, even the concept of the “New Year” is a bit of an illusion. Illusory or not, celebrating the passing of one year to the next has a long history. People around the world have numerous ways of welcoming the New Year, not all of them celebratory. For example, the staff at ABC-Amega reports that in China, welcoming the New Year often involves “a thorough cleaning of the house to sweep out any bad luck from the old year.”[3] Most global celebrations of the New Year actually take place on New Year’s Eve. New Year’s Day becomes a day of rest and recovery. One exception is found in Russia, the ABC-Amega staff reports, “Due to the fact that Christmas celebrations were banished during the Soviet era, Russian’s moved those holiday traditions to New Year’s. Children wake up on New Year’s Day to gifts from Grandfather Frost (Ded Moroz), the Russian Santa Claus. The traditional decorated tree is considered a New Year’s tree and stays up until the Russian Orthodox Christmas on January 7.”

 

The staff also reports, “New Year’s [Day celebrations] in Scotland, and in some other parts of the United Kingdom, include an old superstition called ‘First Footing’. According to this superstition, good luck comes if the first person to set foot in the house on New Year’s Day (January 1) is a tall, dark haired man — especially if he brings a gift of food or coal, which ensures there will be no lack of food or warmth in the household. On New Year’s Day, Scottish children rise early and visit their neighbors singing songs. They are given coins, mince pies, apples and other sweets for the sweetness of their singing.” The late Rainer Maria Rilke, a Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist, once wrote, “And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been.” All of us at Enterra Solutions® hope the New Year brings you happiness and new things that inspire awe and wonder. In whatever manner you plan on celebrating today, please celebrate safely.

 

Footnotes
[1] Sean M. Carroll, “What Does ‘Happy New Year’ Even Really Mean?Smithsonian Magazine, January 2015.
[2] Staff, “New Year’s Day – The History, Traditions, and Customs,” Wilstar.
[3] Staff, “New Year’s Customs Around the World,” ABC-Amega, December 2013.