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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Today is the first day of the next year of your life

[This essay was originally posted to a blog on Weebly. In transferring it I have updated and made corrections where necessary.]

When you're an expat in China, you find that the "New Year season" is exceptionally long.

Anywhere from three to seven weeks after the "real" New Year's Day on Jan. 1 comes Chinese New Year. This year it was on Jan. 26, so from late December until well into February, I was saying "Happy New Year!" In fact, even this week, having just returned to school after a six-week break, I was wishing HNY to people that I hadn't seen since "last year" (Jan. 9).

And today is, apparently, the start of Losar, the Tibetan New Year. So to all my Zang friends, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

It's also Ash Wednesday in the western church, start of the Lenten season. For the few Eastern Orthodox who celebrate it, Ash Wednesday will be a week later, because Easter is a week later on the Eastern Orthodox calendar.

And that brings me to my point: Aside from astronomical and meteorological considerations (solstices, say, or blizzards) what day is what is just a matter of convention. Every day is the first day of the next year of your life.

When I send birthday greetings to friends on Facebook, I usually say, "May you be well and happy for the coming year of your life." (Oddly, many Asian cultures consider people one year older on new Year's, not on the day of their birth, so they might find this strange.)

But we need a celebration of birth (or rebirth). New Year dates are arbitrary, some in spring, some in summer, some in autumn, some in the dead of winter.

As stated on Wikipedia, Mircea Eliade in The Myth of the Eternal Return said that "by the logic of the eternal return, each New Year ceremony was the beginning of the world for [archaic] peoples. According to Eliade, these peoples felt a need to return to the Beginning at regular intervals, turning time into a circle." It's when chaos becomes cosmos.

So EVERY day is New Year. EVERY day is Ash Wednesday for some, Easter for others.

Tomorrow morning, after the "little death" of sleep, wake up and tell yourself, "Happy New Year! Happy birthday! Today is my day!"

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