New Year has lost its symbolic significance in modern society

Column by Linsen Li

I no longer look forward to the New Year.

When I was a kid, New Year’s Day was an exciting time. Schools in China don’t have a prolonged winter break, so New Year’s Day was like a special gift to me. My parents would take me shopping downtown, or to visit an amusement park or the zoo.

I also used to buy into the “new year, new beginning” saying. I was led to believe that the beginning of a new year magically erases everything from the past year, especially things that are undesirable. And with a blank slate, everything is possible in the New Year.

Now that I am older, New Year’s Day has lost its special attraction and symbolic significance.

This New Year’s Day, I spent the majority of my time sleeping and watching TV, not unlike most of my other days during winter break. Granted it provided a much-needed break after a long semester, but it was also a far cry from an inspiring and ideal beginning for the year of 2008.

For college students who get to celebrate New Year’s Day without their parents around, many of them just treat it as another party night to get smashed. In that regard, New Year’s Eve is no different from Halloween, or just another “Thirsty Thursday.” And being hungover during the first day of the new year is no more inspiring than watching Spike TV’s New Year marathon.

As for New Year’s resolutions, it seems that people take them as seriously as birthday wishes.

Personally, I don’t make any New Year’s resolutions. My theory is, if one wants to accomplish a goal, why not start today instead of waiting until the next New Year’s Day?

Yet without doing any research, I can name with confidence three of America’s top 10 New Year’s resolutions: quitting smoking, getting organized and the ever-so-popular losing weight.

More tellingly, it is obvious that, for a significant number of people, the above resolutions have made the list more than once, which means these people couldn’t keep up with their resolutions.

Whatever happened to the good ol’ days when New Year’s resolutions were quasi-sacred and incurred immeasurable guilt to their transgressors? Better yet, what happened to the time in history when each New Year’s Day brought the creation of a new world?

Mircea Eliade, a 20th-century scholar on religion, observed that some ancient cultures regarded the beginning of each new year as literally the beginning of a new universe.

According to Eliade’s “Myth and Reality,” New Year’s ceremonies among the Mesopotamians, the Egyptians and other Near Eastern peoples re-enacted their creation myths. Therefore, each New Year’s ceremony was the beginning of the world for these peoples.

Of course, our ancestors’ reverence of the New Year is impractical in the current world, to say the least. Can you imagine the release of all prisoners and elimination of all debts on New Year’s Day?

In today’s society, people are so occupied with overwhelming daily activities that they no longer care to pay due attention to the symbolic meaning of the New Year.

While mourning the declining significance of the New Year and the adulteration of New Year’s resolutions, I can’t help but think that perhaps it is all for naught, that maybe it is part of the natural progress of history as well as the result of my own aging.

This year, I have accepted my apathy toward the New Year.

Linsen Li is a history and journalism senior. E-mail [email protected].