Al-Ahram Weekly Online   29 December 2011 - 4 January 2012
Issue No. 1078
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Lubna Abdel-Aziz

Greet the new dawn

As the sun rises in the East on January 1, let us be the first to see the luxuriant freshness of a new dawn , the auspicious birth of a New Year, the bright harbinger of optimism and hope. Will you shed a tear, let out a sigh, or clamour and cheer? Whatever the method of feasting, New Year's Eve is the promised night, and the night of promise. We plunge into a whirlpool of heady pleasures, to wash out the agony and pain of past days and nights. It is a splendid night for most, with all the possible joys of human existence, concentrated in a few short hours.

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As the sound of the bells "ring out the old year", we smile with glee. It may have started spectacularly with a big bang, but ended pitifully with a limp and a yawn. "The year is dying, let him go". Our rosy dreams took flight, leaving a burning tear that will not dry. Let us look forward as we "ring in the new year".

The seasonal spirit of joy peaks with the New Year, filling the dark void in the heart by the rollicking, frolicking, reveling and carousing. It must help erase the old year's sorrow, since it has been the custom for thousands of years. Our task is to find happiness in the New Year, and the task to find happiness is monumental. Nonetheless, it is a task we must undertake, for it is our survival instinct, and the road to the future is long and blurred.

Since ancient times man has celebrated the start of a new year in similar fashion. Long before there was a calendar, there was the end of a year and the beginning of a year. It was the time between the sowing of seeds and the harvesting of crops. That was the 'cycle' we call a year. Ancient cultures celebrated the "New Year" at springtime, which is Nature's way, heralding rebirth and renewal. By tampering regularly with the calendar, the Romans placed the New Year in the dead of winter, contrary to Nature's dictates, but so be it. Now January 1 is the one and only universal feast.

Modern day festivities pale in comparison to ancient celebrations staged by different cultures. The earliest recorded New Year festival took place in Babylon in late March, at the vernal equinox, as a tribute to the chief god of agriculture

Ancient Romans also chose the spring season to mark the start of a New Year. The British celebrated March 10, the French Easter Sunday and the Egyptians celebrated the New Year with the flood, when the Nile River overflowed its banks.

January 1 became recognized as New Year's Day universally, only in the 1500s, when the Gregorian calendar was introduced. Different ancient new years are celebrated separately by Muslims, Chinese, Jews, Indians and others.

The Romans gave us the name January after the god Janus, god of gates and doors, god of beginnings and ends. Janus has two faces, one looking backward to the old year, the other looking forward to the new. January 1 has survived to unite the human race into one universal boisterous, blusterous, booming feast.

New Year's Eve has traditionally been the noisiest night of the year, everywhere. Early European farmers banished the spirits that might destroy crops, by the wailing of horns, and the beating of drums. In China, the forces of light, 'the Yang', distracted the forces of darkness, 'the Yin', when on New Year's Eve people gathered to crash cymbals and explode firecrackers. The Iroquois Indians disguised themselves and :" went from wigwam to wigwam, smashing and throwing down whatever they came across". The same Indians set a riotous example then when they gathered old clothes, furnishings and household utensils and tossed these possessions of the previous year into a great big fire, signifying the end of the old and the start of a new year and a new life. I think we all might have the urge to do just that.

As we contemplate our world, old and new, our future, our destiny, we feel a heavy and weary weight. Despite our smart phones and lap-tops, our world seems small compared to the old world. Our feats are shabby compared to the monuments of ancient Egypt, the conquests of Rome, the knowledge of Greece and the wisdom of the princes of Asia. Is it the same sun that shone radiantly on them? Its rays are less warm now!

Let us summon 'the forces of light' as they did in ancient China. Let us blow our whistles and blast our horns as we drive away 'the forces of darkness'. Let the old year die out with all its lawlessness and corruption, its riots and its sins. Let us ring in a new era of law and order, of peace and prosperity. Like the Iroquois Indians, let us shed our old clothes, our rubble and rummage of past years, and burn them in a great big fire, watch it blaze and light up the night, to show us the way to a brighter future.

Is this the time to be philosophical, may be not; but if not now, when? New Year's Eve is only hours away. We should dance all night around the fire, and watch the sun rise on a new day with its bright promise of hope and happiness.

We'll take a cup of kindness yet,
For Auld Lang Syne!
-- Robert Burns (1759-1796)

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