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New Year, new beginnings

Time for new traditions – starting now

By Jennifer Stern

, |

New Year, new beginnings

Time for new traditions – starting now

By Jennifer Stern

, |

5 min read

I heard the first Christmas jingle of the year in a supermarket the other day. It’s a portend of things to come – the Silly Season. Too much eating and drinking, and too much socialising – and in this day and age the latter may be more deleterious than the former.

Yes, Christmas is a time for family, but – somewhat more scarily – New Year is a time for getting drunk, kissing strangers, and promising yourself that you will get your act together some time over the next 52 weeks. Just like you did last year. And didn’t. Perhaps it’s time for a new tradition.

Resolution vs revolution

New Year is an opportunity to make sure that the coming year is better than the one that preceded it, which is where the concept of New Year’s resolutions sort of started. But we all know those vows made after five glasses of bubbly last about as long as the bubbles in your glass, and not nearly as long as the babalaas that follows. Yeah, yeah, I’ll lose weight, work harder, go to gym, not fight with my spouse, kids, dog, neighbour, etc., etc., etc. But, before I even think about that, I’m going to kiss this good-looking stranger. And – oh – also kiss whoever this is who has decided I am the good-looking stranger.

Perhaps it’s time for some new traditions – time to make the New Year about effective revolution as opposed to half-baked resolutions. While the term ‘revolution’ has many meanings, let’s look at two. The first is as the revolution of the earth around the sun – it takes a year to do that – and that’s pretty much what New Year is observing. But the second is even more relevant. A revolution is a change – replacing the old, unwanted status quo with a new, better one. And it does not have to be associated with violence.

What’s with New Year’s kissing anyway?

Let’s get this one out of the way right at the beginning. The tradition of kissing at the stroke of 12 on New Year is very specific. It’s all part of the tradition of starting the year as you intend to continue it, which is why you kiss the person you intend to continue kissing for the rest of the year. So, yes, it’s a good idea to kiss that one special person (or the one you hope may become special), but randomly kissing and hugging strangers at the dawn of a New Year does not augur well for emotional stability. (Or respiratory health.)

Planning ahead

So, if drunken resolutions made under significant peer pressure are not the answer, what is? Tricky question but, fortunately, there is a wealth of cultural tradition to help here. The Chinese New Year traditions are particularly big on settling all debts before the New Year, because going into the New Year in debt means you will be in debt for the whole year. And a big part of Chinese New Year is thoroughly cleaning the house before New Year – also a tradition in Japan.

In the Jewish tradition, the month before Rosh Hashanah, which is called Elul, is dedicated to reflecting and evaluating the past year, and taking active steps to improving it in the New Year – as individuals, families and communities. It’s also a time to examine the way we have interacted with other people, and to make amends and/or apologise for any offence we may have caused, and to clear up any ‘unfinished business’. As a reminder, the shofar (traditionally a ram’s horn, but basically a vuvuzela) is blown every morning of the month of Elul as a ‘wake-up call’. Of course, the neighbours may not appreciate this aspect, so perhaps some circumspection is called for, otherwise you may have to double up on the apologies.

I like to spend a good portion of New Year’s Eve entirely on my own – at least three or four hours. I do any filing that’s lying around – both physical and digital – and I go through my phone, deleting old messages and querying those mysterious contacts that we save for reasons that are no longer clear. I might even phone ‘Angela Banana Ice Cream’ to find out who she is, and why I saved her number. And then the best part – I go through my diary (aka bullet journal), check for unfinished business or projects, realistically evaluate them, and then delete them or migrate them to next year. It’s also a time for reflection, a time to congratulate myself for achievements, and to proactively plan on how to improve in areas that were not quite up to scratch – not a resolution, a plan. A strategy.

Out with the old

A large part of preparations for the New Year is to clear the decks. Give away anything superfluous and make space for happiness and prosperity in the New Year.

  • Empty your kitchen cupboards of any expired foods and half-finished but abandoned containers of stuff you know you will not eat unless threatened with actual starvation. Oh – and the fridge, too, obviously.
  • A great strategy for clearing out your wardrobe is to donate anything you believe to be superfluous to charity, and then to carefully hang everything in the cupboard with the hangers facing the same way. If you have a favourite direction, use the opposite. Then, every time you wear something, replace it the opposite way. In December 2021, go through the cupboard again, and donate any clothes on hangers still turned the old way. (I did warn you this was about thinking ahead.)
  • A scary tradition that evidently started in Italy, but was refined to a terrifying state of anarchy in Hillbrow, is that of throwing unwanted stuff out of the window. It started off in Italy with old pots and pans, and ended up in Hillbrow with people – literally – throwing beds, couches and/or fridges off the roofs of high buildings. Not safe, not recommended, and – incidentally – illegal. Rather load this stuff in your car and take it to the nearest charity shop. Or – if it’s a big item – they will collect.
  • In Germany, people put coins outside their houses on New Year’s Eve to represent leaving all their troubles outside.

In with the new

  • Those coins the Germans leave out on New Year’s Eve are brought back in on New Year’s Day to represent prosperity throughout the New Year. Clever, non-wasteful, and non-polluting.
  • In China, and many other places, it’s important to stock the cupboards before New Year. Going into the New Year with bare cupboards like Mother Hubbard means that you will go hungry the whole year.
  • In many traditions, people wear new clothes on New Year’s Day, to signify a new start.

Caveat – when is New Year anyway?

Many of the traditions described above are taken from the Jewish and/or Chinese traditions, and they do not celebrate New Year’s Day on 1 January. But it’s the principle, not the date, that counts. And, also – the New Year does not have to be deadly serious. There are some fun traditions from around the world that you can adopt or adapt.

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