Here I am writing about the new year two weeks in advance of the holiday, and as is the case with everyone else, each day brings a barrage of news about the pandemic, the presidential elections, and all sorts of other crazy stories ranging from Hunter Biden’s laptop to robots delivering food in Moscow.
Usually for an article such as this one, the writer will review the past year, highlighting its main events and personalities. I doubt whether my Epoch Times readers need or want a rehash of such an ugly year. Later, we’ll look at what we can take away from these troubled months.
Nor am I willing, as some do at this time of the year, to make prognostications about future events except to say buckle up, because 2021 will likely bring even greater challenges.
Besides, there’s my “ability” to peer into an orbuculum—that’s a fancy name for a crystal ball—to discern the future. More than 50 years ago, my roommate at Staunton Military Academy returned from Christmas break and played an album by some group called The Beatles. “Aww, they’ll never make it,” I said after listening for a few minutes. “Stick to the Beach Boys.”
Which is why I’ve never invested in the stock market.
So what do I want to write about here?
It’s pretty simple, really.
New Year’s and us.
A Bit of History
Several ancient peoples, among them the Babylonians, Egyptians, Chinese, and Romans, celebrated a new year. Evan Andrews, in his “5 Ancient New Year’s Celebrations” (History.com), for example, writes of Chinese New Year that during this 3,000-year-old holiday, “festivities traditionally last 15 days. … People clean their houses to rid them of bad luck, … [and] gather with relatives for a feast. … Each year is associated with one of 12 zodiacal animals: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.”
We associate New Year’s Eve with celebrations. Old Man Time departs, and a baby serves as representative of the new year.
We frequently mark this change in the calendar with parties, champagne, fireworks—brought to us by the Chinese—and various other traditions. Many prepare special meals to welcome the new year. Here in the South, for example, some families still eat black-eyed peas (I’m not a fan) and collard greens on New Year’s Day for good luck.
In the past, crowds have gathered in Times Square to watch the “ball drop” on New Year’s Eve, but this January 1, for the first time in 114 years, that event will be virtual because of the pandemic. Hopefully, the traditional New Year’s kiss at midnight will still be delivered in person, and those who gather together will sing “Auld Lang Syne.”
But though the pandemic may cancel some of our parties and shared meals, one New Year’s tradition will remain unaffected by the virus, and it deserves a special place of honor in this year of turmoil and fear.
The New Year’s Resolution
The ancient Babylonians, the Romans, and the early Christians are just some of the people who, when the new year rolled around, resolved to lead better lives.
Millions of Americans do the same. In “10 Top New Year’s Resolutions for Success and Happiness in 2020,” Peter Economy tells us that about 60 percent of us will make a New Year’s resolution, though only about 8 percent will actually stick to that vow. Economy used the artificial intelligence of “Polly” to come up with a list of probable 2021 resolutions. Most of these vows are familiar: work out at the gym, get into shape, lose weight, and upgrade our technology. Others include becoming a better person, staying motivated, and trying something new.
In the list above, we notice no specific measures, only generalities. Even when we resolve to lose weight, unless we set up a program of tactics and deadlines, odds are that come December, we’ll still be carrying those extra pounds we’d hoped to shed.
Though I’ve made numerous New Year’s resolutions, I only recollect keeping two of them. The first was four years ago, when I resolved to read Will and Ariel Durant’s massive 11-volume “The Story of Civilization.” I spent half an hour or so nearly every day with the Durants, and finished the last volume in early December.
This past New Year’s, I undertook to write letters to two of my grandkids every week and take some treats to the employees of my favorite coffee shop and the public library once a month. These vows I have kept as well.
Both resolutions were very specific in nature and intent, with a schedule attached to them. Had I simply resolved, “Be nice to the people at the coffee shop,” nothing would have come from such a broad promise.
So in addition to losing weight or working out, let’s think of some New Year’s resolutions to help us keep our culture and our traditions alive and well.
Resolutions for Cultural Revival
We could gather our friends, neighbors, and family members together once a month or even once a week for an American songfest. We can easily find online the lyrics for “God Bless America,” “America,” and scores of other pieces celebrating our nation. These get-togethers would build camaraderie, help us recollect who we are, and bring some joy into our world.
We can read old books. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, try to read an old book after you read a new one. Just as importantly, we can introduce young readers to American classics like “Tom Sawyer,” “The Little House” series, and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which was just banned in a California school system. Take the gang to the library or find older books at sites like bartleby.com. For a real literary shot of patriotism, read Edward Everett Hale’s “The Man Without a Country.”
We can learn more about some art that is unfamiliar to us, deepening our appreciation for the works of Mozart, the paintings of El Greco, or the novels of James Fenimore Cooper. We might set aside even just a small part of the day to listen to Bach’s “Brandenburg Concertos,” or turn the pages of a book on art from the library, or read a chapter from George Eliot’s “Middlemarch.”
Such excursions not only lift us out of our present but also bring us into the palace of the true and the beautiful.
‘For Auld Lang Syne’
Traditionally, we sing these words—they mean “for the sake of old times”—on New Year’s Eve.
As we ring in 2021, we should keep “the old times” of the past year in mind. Almost all of us have suffered the bruises and abrasions delivered by 2020. Many have lost their jobs and businesses, and some lost loved ones to the virus. Most of us would agree, I suspect, that our nation has undergone a battering unlike any we have seen in our lifetimes.
To quote an old American folk song, most of us hope “Oh, hard times, come again no more.”
Unfortunately, hard times are likely to come again in this new year, but here’s the good news: Our months of suffering have prepared us for them. This time we won’t be taken by surprise.
In addition, our trials have also brought us some treasures, if we have the eyes to see them and the memory to recollect them.
The Gifts of 2020
During this time of pandemic, masks, and “safe distancing,” many of us have grown closer to family, friends, and neighbors. When a lockdown keeps us from a Thanksgiving dinner or a New Year’s party, we realize more than ever how precious others are to us. Those of us who live alone are especially cognizant of the importance of relationships.
The old year has toughened us, readied us to confront the trials ahead—warriors ready to fight. I’ve never particularly cared for the aphorism “What does not kill us makes us stronger,” but for America’s sake I’m hoping it is true.
Let’s take what we have learned and move forward with stout hearts to meet our new challenges.
Happy New Year to all!
Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. He is the author of two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust On Their Wings,” and two works of non-fiction, “Learning As I Go” and “Movies Make The Man.” Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See JeffMinick.com to follow his blog.