New Year's Eve Was A Different Time

HISTORY

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The Rim country does not seem to have a New Year's Eve tradition to pass on from generation to generation. In the pioneer days, there were the usual dances and gatherings of friends.

One year in the last century some of the high school boys set off a stick of dynamite on Indian Hill -- while the Apaches were still living there. That shook up the town for awhile. Perhaps the quietude is because families are tired out after the long Christmas celebrations and the coming and going of many guests.

Maybe being quiet on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day is as it should be. A time for the world to stand still before life starts over. The day is like an interval in music, the silence between a note just ended and a note not yet heard. It is good to stand still for a moment in the year, like a pendulum that is neither ticking nor tocking, a moment when the tide is neither coming in or going out. A moment of equilibrium, an instant when we are coming from nowhere and going nowhere, but we are just here.

Instead of just "being," we often go into a primitive little dance like a tribe of one, chanting our hopes and resolutions around the totem poles of parades and football games. It is true we cannot come to New Year's Eve and New Year's Day without some awareness that we stand on the threshold of new promises. You probably know that the month of January is named for the Roman god Janus. He is the fellow who had two faces, one looking back at the departing year and the other looking forward to the approaching year. He was called "the god of endings and beginnings," also called "the god of gates and doors." At such a time, it is only natural to consider resolutions, those commitments to the self about changes that ought to take place in our behavior.

What if New Year's resolutions preceded the joyful burst of generosity we feel at Christmas? Would we be more generous, or would the uncertainty of the future cause us to be less so?

In fact, the New Year has often been celebrated before Dec. 31. The ancient Egyptians celebrated the new year on the autumnal equinox, Sept. 21. The Greeks settled on the winter solstice, Dec. 21, and the Romans used March 1 as the turning point.

In Anglo-Saxon England they blended Christmas and the New Year together on Dec. 25.

However, for the rest of the Christian world at that time, Christmas was commemorated on Jan. 6. Only after 1582 did New Year's Day come to rest on Jan. 1.

Like most holidays, New Year's celebrations began around the harvest. American Indians celebrated it in August when the food was ripening. It seemed natural to make the celebration one of new beginnings.

Some tribes would clean house, burn their old clothes, ceremoniously extinguish old fires and rekindle new ones.

More New Year's trivia

The early English settlers in America brought with them the custom of a glass of eggnog, and lifted their glasses to a chorus of "Wassail." It was Old English for "good health," thus the "Wassail bowl."

Or take a quick trip to Colorado Springs and look up at Pike's Peak. Since 1922, a big display of fireworks is set off from the top of that 14,000-foot mountain. It is a mighty show of "bombs bursting in air" as the mountainside and the sky light up for a glorious 15 minutes.

Maybe the recent forest fire dangers have curtailed that practice.

We surely could not do it here, although it would be spectacular coming off the top of Mount Ord or Baker's Butte.

A practice that has been popular with church groups is to write down some things that you hoped to accomplish in the year ahead. Seal them in an envelope, addressed to yourself.

Then attach them to your new calendar for the next December, or have the secretary of the group to which you belong mail them in 12 months.

Calendars are the arbitrary inventions of priests and emperors. I don't know why we lean on them so heavily, except we need markers along the way to get our bearings.

New Year's Day is one of those occasions.

Maybe we do need Janus to help us glance over our shoulder at the past year, and then gently peer ahead at the days to come.

Someone asked the sculptor Thorwaldson, "What is your greatest statue?"

He answered without hesitation, "The next one." A fitting thought for the last hour of the old year. We look forward to new opportunities, new dreams accomplished.

Let us add a word from Christopher Morely, who wrote, "Never write in your journal at the end of the day what happened that day. It takes more than a day to know what happened."

We may well say that about the year just ended, and let any evaluation of it unfold later.

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