Here’s to All Our New Starts

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We’re obsessed. It’s everywhere, on Facebook, on our blogs, all the places we communicate with others. We’re all talking about this new start, this new chance, this new leaf to turn.

2016—this new year.

We’re making resolutions and goals and lists and choosing “one little word” to guide and motivate us. We’re talking about the projects we finished as the old year ended and the ones we’ll start today, to start the year right..

I’m just fascinated by all the weight and symbolism we assign to the new year.

I’ve been doing it all morning.

I wrote in my personal journal about the goals I have for this year.

I went for a walk, to start the year right. When I got to the hill, I didn’t stop and turn back. I went to the top . . . to start the year right.

It was cloudy—was that a sign that the year might be bleak? No, look at that expanse of unsullied snow—that’s surely a sign, a metaphor for the year before me.

And, look, the sun is coming out after all!

Now, I’m going to go wash the sheets and tidy the kitchen counters and wind a new warp and cut some fabric for a quilt . . . to be sure to start this year right!

I’m sure humans have been doing this since calendars were invented. As soon as we could point to one day that was an Ending and the next a Beginning, we started thinking about those days differently than all others and we started thinking about our lives differently from that day to this.

I imagine all calendar-based cultures have superstitions about these new years and starting them well. If I were a grad student again, maybe I’d research these superstitions. But I am a blogger now, and rumination wins out over research.

The one tradition that I am most aware of is the eating of pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day. When I moved to central Pennsylvania, I was introduced to this tradition and, boy, did they take it seriously! A guy I knew told about his grandfather who was in the hospital on New Year’s and was not given pork and sauerkraut. So, he died. Bad luck, indeed!

No one could tell me where the practice came from so I researched it and learned that the tradition came from Pennsylvania Germans. They believed that it was good luck to eat pork because pigs root forward, symbolic of the future and progress, while other animals scratch backwards. The eating of sauerkraut meant that the bitter of the year could be dispensed with on the first day, leaving the rest of the year for the sweet.

Because I am the past, present, and future President of the Pollyanna Fan Club (no term limits—yay!), all the signs and symbols I see are positive, all I see before me in this new year are possibilities and opportunities. Even the fact that I was up at 3 a.m. today (and, no, it wasn’t because I had stayed out all night partying) can be turned into a sign of being eager to begin this new, special year.

But I think that’s human nature. Does any good Pennsylvania German sit down to pork and sauerkraut and think, “Humph. The pig is dead and it’s just fermented cabbage, not magic. This year is clearly going to suck”? Does anyone raise that glass of bubbly and say, “We who are about to die, salute you”?

Nah. We relish our positive signs and good portents and wish each other well. We choose to believe that this, this, will be the best year.

I really like this about human nature, yours and mine. We all know that this is a day like any other day, it’s just an arbitrary marker. And, yet, we use it to challenge ourselves to be better, to do better. We celebrated last night in ways consistent with what we want for year. Some of us went out and were social and adventurous, others stayed home and were cozy and mellow, all hoping to lay the groundwork for a very fine year.

But, maybe, when the bloom is off the new year and its spiffy new shine seems tarnished, we should remind ourselves that a new beginning is a state of mind and only an arbitrary marker. Every new day starts a new year, a new cycle in our lives, and we should greet them all with wonder.