The New Year is upon us. It settles in, like a nesting bird upon the tree of our daily lives, as memories of the holiday season fall to the ground, the last leafy drags sifting into dust from a dream. Stores swiftly revamp commercial drives to grapple at the next fast-approaching observance with cunning ease, whereas the rest of us fumble at the knot of our ends and beginnings, to pursue a long string of uncomplicated sensibility. However the festive spirit does not diminish come New Years Day. In fact, the myriad of calendrical observances that exhaust the coming months, honour the enduring will of humanity by their persistent desire for thoughtfulness and transcendental expression. It seems we are always on the run.
While it’s easy to get lost in the clutter of commemorations that trail each month, some stand worthy of our attention. The Twelve Days of Christmas, a tradition remarked by the more popular English Christmas Carol, customarily extends throughout Christmastide until January 5th, (the “Twelfth night”), while Orthodox Christmas falls more commonly on January 7th, (Christmas Day) following the Julian calendar. Meanwhile, the Old New Year, an informal, traditional Orthodox holiday, celebrates the start of the New Year of the Julian calendar on January 14th. Martin Luther King Day follows on January 16th, while the Chinese New Year and Robbie Burns Day proceed to fill out the end of the calendar month with supping, toasting, dancing, music and fireworks.
It is interesting to note the relevant changes of such celebrations over the years, as our cultures and societies take on fresh shapes molded by particular economic and social interests. Throughout the commonwealth for example, aspects of the Twelve Days are still celebrated, such as Boxing Day, (a national holiday) being the first full day of Christmas. Chief culinary elements of the celebration, as are featured in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, still remain relevant in Britain, (plum pudding, roasted goose and wassail.) However such traditions as the Epiphany Feast and Twelve Days have mostly been forgotten in North America. Widely popular nineteenth century stories focusing on generous gift-giving, the corresponding rise of commercialism and shopping campaigns, as well as the introduction of more secular traditions such as Santa Claus, and the growing popularity of New Year’s Eve parties are key contributing factors. Nevertheless, despite these fading seasonal customs, many Christians in other parts of the world continue to celebrate the liturgical seasons of Advent and Christmas according to their traditions.
Like a spike of insulin from a sudden hit of sugar, Christmas has become that decadent piece of dessert we tend to lament after consuming. Did I really need that? Have I eaten too much? I wish there was more… But Christmas is not about gluttonous ambiguity. Rather it’s a return to the simplicities of our nature brought forth into New Year in a humble parcel of goodwill and love. January 1rst should never be known as the come-down of the holiday season to salt the soils of our heart. Rather it is the fertilizing nourishment for the months to come, a steady pulse of celebratory spirit from which new things can begin to grow. Even though we may have lost aspects of our historical customs that once lit up January like a festive holiday display of Christmas lights, wooden reindeer, nativity scenes and blow up Frosty the Snow Mans, we can still appreciate the impetus of the season: the strive for synergistic appreciation, benevolence and love.