The turn of the year brings out platitudes. “Every ending is a new beginning.” “Out with the old, in with the new.” The date of the supposed fresh start is arbitrary, of course. Remember the relief when annus horribilis 2020 was finally hindsight? Then came January 6, 2021. The gods laughed, “And you thought the worst was over.”
Most changes evoke mixed feelings. Anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski suggested societies use rites of passage, at changes of personal status, to reinforce the more desirable elements in the mix. A wedding ceremony, for example, highlights joyful commitment and downplays loss of freedom. Though few New Year’s celebrations are true rites of passage, they offer a similar purpose.
Parties, toasts, and "Auld Lang Syne" call us to remember the past but not to wallow in it. Acknowledge grief but don’t despair; the sun will rise again. And if the past year stank, raise a glass to “good riddance” instead of plotting endless cycles of revenge. Out with the old, in with the new.
Image: Reporter and artist Marguerite Martyn, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 4, 1914.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.