Come, children, gather round my knee;
Something is about to be.
Tonight’s December thirty-first,
Something is about to burst. The clock is crouching, dark and small,
Like a time bomb in the hall.
Hark! It’s midnight, children dear.
Duck! Here comes another year.
~ Ogden Nash
When I was a child, New Year’s Eve had a mystical feeling to it; it rated with Santa and the Tooth Fairy as representations of life’s magical capacity. It was the last of these pieces of magic to lose its lustre.
For me, the magical lustre of New Year was destroyed by Daylight Saving.
Now, I happen to like daylight saving and it is one of the things I really miss about living south of here. The lack of daylight in the summer evenings has made for a very different way of living.
When I was about 12 my family had a holiday on The Gold Coast over the Christmass New Year period, and of course, we stayed up to welcome the New Year. For some reason at 11pm I suddenly realised that at home, which was just a few hundred kilometres to the south, the New Year had just ticked over. And just as suddenly I realised that New Year ticked over at very different times around the globe. It would not be ‘New Year’ in Canada until it was nearly tomorrow here.
The moment of magical transition, of an ending and a beginning, had been disempowered by my discovery of New Year’s arbitrariness.
A few weeks later the Chinese community in my home town celebrated Chinese New Year and the arbitrary nature of new years was confirmed.
My naïve understanding of New Year was shattered. Midnight on New Year’s Eve was just another point in time. It could be any time.
Over time I have rediscovered the importance of New Year, particularly of its capacity to help us to draw the line under a set of events, to open ourselves to the new, and to embrace the future with renewed sense of hope.
To do this I have had to embark on the journey that the Biblical scholar Marcus Borg suggests we all undertake in our relationship with the Christmass story; the story that continues to unfold this week as we observe The Feast of the Epiphany and the visit of the wise ones to Jesus’ home in Nazareth.
As children we face the Christmass story in the same way I approached New Year as a child. We see it as magical and mystical; the travelling star and the singing angels are more than real. We inhabit the story in a particular way. Borg refers to this as approaching the story with childhood or pre-critical naiveté.
At some stage we develop some doubts about the details of the story as our critical faculties are brought to bear on it. The details lose their childhood lustre and the story loses its power. Borg refers to this as our critical phase. It is characteristic of the phase we enter in our teenage years as we begin to seek to make our own way in the world.
Marcus Borg suggests that our maturation involves entering a third phase, which he refers to as Post-Critical Naiveté. In this phase we discover the capacity to see the truth in things that are not factual.
Post-Critical Naiveté enables us to rediscover the power of the Christmass story while doubting many of story’s details. We no longer care that angels may or may not have sung at the birth of Christ, but we appreciate that the birth is an event that causes heaven and nature to sing; a song we can sing along with. A song that transforms us and enlivens us and gifts us with a sense of purpose. The story behind the story becomes more than real.
These days I approach New Year from the standpoint of Post-Critical Naiveté. I know that our New Year is just a moment in time and that in NSW it arrives an hour earlier than here and in Vancouver it will arrive 18 hour later. But I also know New Year’s power to bring to an end a season; a year that may have gathered together a set of events that when combined created the feeling of being almost too much to bear.
The New Year offers us the chance to make fresh starts, to leave behind that which belongs to ‘last year’. It can be the bearer of true hope.
Happy New Year.