Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Happy "Secular" New Year?

“Should old acquaintance be forgot...” It's a brand new (secular) year. Unless you live in Israel, this secular new year is your new year too; unless you write 5772 in your chequebook it’s safe to assume you’ll be writing 2012 and “Judaizing” the change of year in January by wishing your coworkers a “happy and healthy...” Just short of saying Shana Tova, we are caught up in the real world of living in the Diaspora all of December through the first weeks of January. Chanukah and Christmas coming on each other’s heels this year made it all one big mish-mash of “holiday season.” We can build all the Sukkahs we want in the fall, its those stringed lights across the street reflecting in our windows through most of December that frame our existence in Toronto.

So I can’t help but be glad that we Jews have not one but two opportunities during the course of a year to think about change, redirection, and new beginnings. Yes there are drunken parties on December 31 and yes the “holiday” has its excesses. But most of us are thoughtful folks who can make new year’s resolutions six months after we’ve made New Year’s resolutions and do a winter stock-taking that will ask us if we’ve kept those well-intentioned pledges we made on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Maybe the secular new year is giving us a second chance to make good on the promises of Kol Nidre before next Kol Nidre tells us its too late. I don’t growl at people who wish me a happy new year in January; I see them as messengers of the reminder that I still have work to do to complete the change I promised myself one long day in synagogue back in October.

At the best of times most people don’t seek change. It took us millions of years to evolve to who and what we are now. The human disposition and the human body doesn’t like change. Cro-Magnon man didn’t wake up one day and say, “gee, I’d like to move on and become Neanderthal Man.” As much as we might crave excitement, we generally like to know what comes next. As much as we love to travel, we like to come home to our own beds. We are creatures of habit. People like things just the way they are; and so any resolutions we make about change—especially about change that takes hard inner work—will be tough, and we will procrastinate and avoid and make excuses. So another “reminder” is not all that bad.

Facing our “change demons” twice a year is twice as hard, but gives us two chances to move forward in our lives. So...make those resolutions once again, and happy new year once again.

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