I remember one year when I was about 12 or 13 years old I wrote up a list of New Year’s resolutions on a piece of decorative paper, rolled it up in a scroll and tied it with a ribbon. Knowing myself, I imagine that list contained resolutions like, “Study even harder; be more organized; clean my room” and, assuredly, “Stop biting my fingernails”. Every day, for about a week, I opened up the scroll and regarded the list and steeled myself to better adhere to those resolutions. After a week, maybe ten days, I’d stopped looking at it. A few months later I found it amongst the random crap that had accumulated in piles around my room (so much for cleaning my room, eh?) and, grudgingly, admitted to myself that I just wasn’t a resolution sort of person and chucked the list out.
In my pre-and early teen years, New Year’s Eve was a big deal. There was a trio of families – our family with two girls, our friends down the street with two girls and a family in the next neighbourhood with two boys – who spent a lot of time together. The parents were all friends and the kids – to one extent or another as the years went on – were friends and of an age, too. Every year the parents all went to the same New Year’s Eve party, and once about half of the kids had passed about 12 years old, we six kids all spent the evening together in one of the family homes.
It was fun. I remember the year we turned our basement into a giant fort, with walls and blanket-roofs and doors and spent the entire night down there. I remember the year the youngest child, a girl 5 years my junior, got sick and we pulled out the convertible couch and all lay together on it after she’d finished being sick in the powder room. I remember watching old musicals – The Sound of Music was in heavy rotation – and rollerblading around and around the unfinished basement of the boys’ home. New Year’s Eve, in those years, was a night of possibility and freedom. We were giddy with it.
As the years passed, though, NYE lost its shine. To me it became just an arbitrary date, a day when, culturally, the expectation was for something momentous and exciting to happen, a night of glamour and fun and parties and kisses at midnight but none of which ever happened for me. December 31 was just another very cold night in Ottawa. Another night when I had nowhere to go and nothing special to do. For the most part I was perfectly happy to stay home on my own or with my family – I’m naturally a homebody – but I felt the pull of filling the cultural expectation of something BIG.
Now, with not only marriage but also two children under my belt, I’m not looking to go out on NYE for a night of big excitement and partying, and I’m certainly not looking to find some stranger to kiss at midnight (though I never actually did, sitcoms and movies had me convinced that I was supposed to want to do so). In the past few years, New Year’s Eve has been a bit of a non-starter in our home. This year, however, I find myself feeling very differently about this night.
The fact is that tonight is an entirely arbitrary date. The changing of the year could just as easily happen in March or July or any other day. In the church liturgical year, the changing of the year begins in November at the commencement of Advent. Tonight is no different than any other night.
Except that we choose it to be so. Except that we, in deciding that tomorrow begins a new year, imbue tonight with greater purpose and significance than last night or tomorrow night. Tonight we begin anew.
We don’t, of course. We don’t begin entirely fresh and new. The laundry that is half-finished will still need to be folded and put away, the bills that are unpaid will still need reckoning, the projects on needles will still await their stitches. We do not leave behind that which is unfinished simply because we have begun a new year. But we can choose to leave behind the things which are completed, the things which have transpired in our past days. We can choose – or at least try – to detach ourselves from what has been, and move forward into what will be with a clear mind and with intention.
What is special about tonight is not that I or any other person may choose to start fresh tomorrow morning. No, what is special about tonight is that so many of the people on this blue world of ourselves will do so. There is a common purpose in New Year’s Eve. Every person with a Gregorian calendar is, tonight, aware that tomorrow we begin a new year of days.
So I am making resolutions this year. I am setting goals. I am claiming a word for myself to mark my year and use as a metre for my growth. I have chosen that tonight is special, arbitrary though that may be. Tonight is the last day of this year. A year of good and ill, a year of stress and joy, a year of death and birth. Like the leaves of the trees in this season, the year has served its purpose, fostering growth and change and newness, and now the year is spent, dry and brittle in its age. Tomorrow this year will fall to earth, be buried in the snow and decay, nourishing the new year as it buds.
― L.M. Montgomery