Do We Have to Take the New Year So Seriously?

How my cynical perspective about the holiday has led me to peace.

Posted Jan 03, 2020

Since I was young, I’ve had a strained relationship with the New Year holiday. I can distinctly remember feeling overwhelmed at 12 years old as I watched my family members count down the seconds until midnight. What, I wondered, will be different once the clock strikes 12? What will be different once this celebration ends? What unexpected things will be waiting for us in the new year? I’d watch the adults in my life resolve to eat better, work better, be better, live better—and I’d find myself feeling weighed down by the idea that one day I’d have to start every new year setting the same kinds of expectations for myself.

I still feel the way I did at 12 years old. The start of a new year generates a mixed bag of emotions that takes me weeks to sort through. When the clock strikes midnight and the fireworks start shooting into the sky, a jolt of anxious energy rocks my system. Another year. Another set of pressures. Another burden of expectations.

It’s a cynical perspective, I know. But it’s one I can’t shake, no matter how hard I try. And maybe it’s not such a bad thing to be cynical about a holiday that marks nothing more and nothing less than the turning of one day into another—an occasion that we live through (if we’re fortunate, of course) thousands upon thousands of times without any sort of pomp or circumstance. Is it so wrong to think that maybe we don’t need to place such extraordinary and disproportionate emphasis on the dawning of this one new day in particular?

To be sure, there’s something beautiful about celebrating the start of a new year. There’s something psychologically and emotionally refreshing about believing we can turn the page and start anew. It’s highly encouraging to believe we can begin again, drawing on a blank canvas that holds endless promise and potential. But why, I wonder, can’t we feel this way about every new day? Why do we need a designated holiday to remind us of our capacity to commit to ourselves, start fresh, and build on a new foundation?

The trouble with hyping the start of a new year comes when we forget that every new day offers the same promise and holds the same potential. It comes when we lose sight of the fact that we always have a choice to stay the same or start something new. It comes when we attach ourselves to expectations that eventually overwhelm or disappoint us.

I have yet to find my way out of the struggle this holiday introduces for me every year. But I’m okay with that. Because it’s led me to find freedom in recognizing that the choice about how to regard the new year belongs entirely to me. I can celebrate the occasion or sleep through it. I can resolve to do things differently or do things just the same. I can see the new year as a special opportunity or recognize the specialness in all new beginnings. And maybe that freedom—the freedom to choose our own perspective and choose our own way—is the greatest offering the holiday gives us.

My wish for this new year and decade is that we all find our own unique ways to make the most of the freedom, joy, and promise available to us—now, and in each new day.