The magic of new beginnings

Lubna Abdel-Aziz
Tuesday 2 Jan 2024


At the stroke of midnight, a new dance of life begins. We cling to each other for warmth and support, as we tiptoe forward into the light of a new beginning. Dancing, singing, hugging, kissing we shout with joy our longing for happiness, as we revel in the first hours of a new born year.
We have done that since time immemorial.
Fascinated by the universal allure of each new year, British writer Charles Lamb (1775-1834) wrote: “No one ever regarded 1 January with indifference. It is the nativity of our common Adam. New Year’s Day is everyman’s birthday.”
Nothing brings us together as a human race like the new year.
Various cultures may still celebrate their own new year, adhering to different calendars, but the entire world celebrates 1 January.
New Year’s is the oldest of man’s holidays. Its story begins long before any calendar existed. Once a religious feast, as were all ancient celebrations, the word is derived from hali dai, or holy day. The oldest record of an authentic New Year celebration was staged 4,000 years ago in the city of Babylon. The ancient Egyptian new year marked the flooding of the River Nile.

Celebrations of the new year in the ancient world took place at springtime, with the vernal equinox, marking the start of the agricultural season. That makes good sense as it was measured by the period which the earth takes to complete a single revolution around the sun.
Why then do we eagerly celebrate it in the bitter cold of winter? The Romans did it. Their ancient calendar originally observed the coming of spring, 25 March, as the first day of the year, but Roman emperors kept tampering with the calendar for personal reasons, pushing the date back to winter.
By the year 153 BC, the Roman senate declared the start of the new year as 1 January, named after Janus, the Roman god of fertility, whose two faces allowed him to look forward as well as backwards.
It is only within the past 400 years that 1 January enjoyed widespread acceptance, and the way we celebrate is not too different from our ancient ancestors.

Some old traditions die hard. From early times, this has been the noisiest of nights. We shout and sing, wear funny hats, blow our whistles and set off firecrackers in the dark sky. We inherited this custom from our ancestors. They banished the evil spirits who would destroy their crops with a great wailing of horns, a beating of drums, the crashing of cymbals and illuminating the sky with explosive fireworks.
The joyful noises serve two purposes: welcoming the new year, and sending off the old one. We are indeed happy to see the demise of 2023, a daily nagging companion for 12 months of economic and political turmoil, of disease and unrest, of violence threatening in every corner of the globe. It ended with a bang and a roar with the tragic destruction of Gaza and the massacre of the children of Palestine.
It bore few good tidings and fewer deeds of kindness.
Are we optimistic about 2024? Indeed we are; as we were in 2023, 2022, 2021, 2020, etc. We need hope in order to endure. It is our mechanism for self-preservation, without which we would self- destruct.
Excited and invigorated, with smiles on our faces and hope in our hearts, we greet one another with a fervent wish for a “Happy New Year”.

New beginnings carry a special thrill, whatever they may be, a new baby, a new romance a new friendship or a new acquisition — a car, a TV set, a cell-phone. Your heart skips a beat. Filled with great expectations and great excitement we embrace the new, with trembling hope.
The enchantment of the new year is shared by all. We are offered a fresh start, a clean page to write on. It is up to us to fill it with achievements, success, honour, strength, and love. As Oprah Winfrey said: “Cheers to a new year and another chance to get it right.”

With a sense of rebirth and undying hope that good things can happen, we are forced to make them happen.
In the depth of the human soul lingers an undying love for life and the desire for happiness. We just need to work harder, to dig deeper, to search longer and sing louder, to find it.
Were we to wish for one single virtue for mankind, what would it be? Kindness would be a good choice. That is how we say goodbye to the old year and welcome the new year. We sing the old Scottish folk song, published by poet Robert Burns in 1799, which has become the New Year anthem. We stand shoulder to shoulder and sing of love and friendship, of loyalty and kindness.
Kindness is the message of our song of choice that rings from every corner of the globe.

Auld Lang Syne (old long ago) is a cry of nostalgia, expressing fidelity, loyalty and devotion. The world sings the song of unbroken dreams, of human kindness and everlasting friendship.
Let us resolve to be kind, to cherish friends to love one another.
This New Year, we resolve to right all wrong, to start anew, to keep dreaming, to love mankind, to love life, for “if you love life, life will love you back.”

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul.”
G K Chesterton (1874-1936)


* A version of this frontpage article of the 2023 Al-Ahram Weekly Yearender appears in print in the 4 January 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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