Home > General, Religion > Beginning 2011

Beginning 2011

January 6th, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

I hate “New Year”.

For as long as I can remember I have hated new year celebrations. Not so much the actual celebrating – I like a drink and a party as much as the next guy – but the fact that celebration takes place at all. Wht do we celebrate the transition from 31st December to 1st January? Maybe a more improtant question, is what are we actually celebrating with this quasi-festival?

Many will answer that we are celebrating the end of one year and the start of the next – a traditional rebirth metaphor On the surface, this seems a fairly good answer, if a little pagan, as this cyclical nature of death and rebirth is so ingrained in the human psyche that it would be stranger to miss a chance to celebrate the metaphor given half a chance.

My question to those that support this view would be why this particular point in the Earth’s orbit of the sun? There is at least some demarcation in other rebirth metaphors – night into day, phases of the moon, literal life and death – but this is just one of many opportunities to celebrate the fact that the planet is still orbiting its star.

Some argue that we are celebrating the fact we are moving from one calendar year to the next. This is perhaps a little more forgivable than the first argument as there is at least some demarcation. We are ripping up the calendar for 2010 and crakcing out the calendar for 2011 (I went from a Trinity Hospice in the Fylde calendar to a Marvel one).

It is far harder for me to find fault with this argument, although it still feels an arbitrary reason. I mean the calendar we use today was invented by Pope Gregory XIII to prevent Easter having to move all the time as the previous calendar had slightly miscalculated the vernal equinox, meaning the year was 11 minutes too short.

As an atheist and veritable anti-papist, I find it a little odd that I am supposed to celebrate the continued use of a tool invented to control congregations and ensure the continued influence of the Catholic Church on modern life. Don’t get me wrong here, I am fully aware that the calendar as a popular tool today has little to do with the Catholic Church and its continuing influence. However, I find it just as difficult to celebrate Christmas with its historical ties to Christianity and that tradition is well over 1000 years old. New Year as we know it less than 300 years of tradition (Britain didn’t adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752).

The third argument (although I have only ever heard it once from a Catholic friend of mine) is the celebration of the circumcision of Jesus. This one I have absolutely no problems with. If people want to celebrate this then go ahead. Obviously, this defence only works for those sects of Christianity and Messianic Judaism that believe and therefore celebrate this. I don’t believe in Jesus as a god (and barely believe in him as a figure from history) and certainly would never celebrate the barbaric act of none-medical circumcision under any circumstances.

The final argument (and the one that my skeptical and atheist friends tend to fall back on) is one of opportunity. Why should we pass up on a chance to party just because the historical or traditional rationale for the party doesn’t hold up. Why can’t we celebrate an arbitrary festival for arbitrary (or no) reason?

Whilst there are idealistic flaws with this argument, these tend to come from contrarianism rather than any real evidentiary basis. This argument is clearly the hardest to refute as it basically says “who cares?” and in my experience, the answer is “very few”.

So, I continue to party at new year. I also continue to have this argument with anyone that will listen in the hope that one day someone will offer a better option than “if you can’t beat them, join them”.

Any ideas then feel free to add a comment!

  1. January 6th, 2011 at 14:33 | #1

    I’m not sure opportunity is quite the right way to describe it.

    I don’t see it as the one opportunity we have all year to have a party and so we should seize on it, it’s that it’s as much of a valid date to have an arbitrary celebration as any other and as a society, this is the arbitrary date that we have chosen (not that we don’t hold parties all year round and then find some kind of post hoc reason that we hold them).

    To extend this idea, you could also argue that it’s human made ritual (or to be more accurate “only acknowledged as human made” as all rituals are human made there being no god and all) that we celebrate New Year, which is arguably just as important to the non-religious – otherwise what exactly are we doing with Humanist funerals and baby naming ceremonies.

  2. January 6th, 2011 at 18:59 | #2

    Well the Humanist funerals and baby naming ceremonies are a whole other kettle of fish. I don’t think we need them. They are born out of the non-religious desire to get in the act. Which is something I don’t necessarily think we should be doing.

    New Year is such a pointless celebration and pointless celebrations annoy me. Why do we have to assign arbitrary reasons for celebrations? Why can’t we just celebrate?

    I think parties and celebrations are very different things. Parties are gatherings of people in a social or quasi-social environment. Celebrations (which tend to take the form of parties, but not exclusively so) require a reason, a ‘thing’ to celebrate. Celebrate itself means “in honour of”.

  1. No trackbacks yet.