The big cleanse...sort of

The other day I griped to some friends about New Year's: I do not get the excitement over holiday.  I have never particularly enjoyed the fuss made over the ball dropping, Dick Clark, copious amounts of alcohol, and unrealistic, quickly abandoned resolutions. To me, the holiday offers little; already fulfilled-slash-exhausted from celebrating Halloween and Thanksgiving and Christmas, I have limited patience and enthusiasm for a day that offers yet another opportunity for commercialism and consumerism (Begin the new year right with a juice cleanse!  Join X gym now and lose fifty pounds by 2013! Buy this guide to de-cluttering your life and finding your way to happiness!).

Not everyone, however, saw my side.  Our conversation was split between those of us who liked New Year's and those who did not, and we even went so far as to make a pro and con list (pros: time with friends rather than family, midnight hugs for no reason, opportunity for reflection, copious amounts of liquor; cons: stupid hats, Dick Clark, drunk driving, midnight hugs for no reason, copious amounts of liquor).  Quips and sarcasm aside, though, I began to wonder about what particularly the celebration of a new year provides that people so needed.  The new year's observation allows for movements that do not happen otherwise in the secular calendar year during other holidays.  A time of feasting followed by a time of fasting, a time of boisterous joy followed by quiet inward reflection, a time of overextension followed by deliberate restraint--even if short-lived--this is what the new year gives us.

In this way, the new year seems not unlike the Lenten season demarcated in some Christian calendars.  After basking in the joy of Christ's birth and epiphany and indulging during Shrove Tuesday, we peel back the unnecessary layers and trappings that we have accumulated, whether they include mental clutter, extraneous worship space decor, or other means of overconsumption and overstimulation.  We ready ourselves again to experience the wonder of Christ's love and presence which come in its greatest density at Easter, but in order to recognize and appreciate the Easter resurrection, we must first clear away distraction.  That is the thing about celebration no matter whether deemed sacred or secular: it brings great warmth and hope and love but also a lot of crap.  Just think about the tacky banners that make their way into the church nave and all those unnecessary Brookstone gadgets and Christmas socks pushed towards the back of your closest.  

Perhaps this impulse towards feasting then fasting is why I cannot easily get behind New Year's, why it always seems more an afterthought to me.  I think I participate in many of the same rituals but on a different timetable.  Sure, I always want to organize my closets and unnecessary possessions after reading January issues of magazines and speaking to others around me, but I suppose my investment remains only partial.  My real work and undivided focus never begins until a month or two later.

So, all you who want New Year's holiday, have it.  I think I understand.  I will bite back my cynicism when you tell me about your New Year's kiss and then recount your laundry list of resolutions.  Just please think of something other to do than a juice fast or organizing your closets.


Emily Rowell Brown