raging against the dying of the year

this post, while it stands on its own merit, is part of a recurring series on epilogomena, or our unhealthy societal obsession with endings, the primer for which can be found here.


I’ve never understood why New Year’s Eve is such a big deal. When I was little, I was in bed. As a child, I watched Dick Clark on TV (I shamelessly ripped off his sign-off salute; thanks, Pyramid!) and as a youth, I did those lock-in/all-nighter things. I think I only made it through the whole night once or twice, anyway. When I got my license, I chose to leave those events when they got, well, too boring. Once, my youth pastor stopped me on the way out. (By way of a brief dossier on the man: he was an unapologetic ex-marine autocrat who epitomized the style-over-substance ‘theology of ministry’ and gladly took credit for things that were entirely out of his control while side-stepping any and all criticism, deflecting all that who whomever happened to be the most convenient target: lay leaders, college students, even the youth themselves. Semper fi…for the Lord.) He gave me the warning that leaving would mean I would not be allowed back. Ummm…let me think about thisokseeyalaterbye! Why should I stay awake, when what I’m supposed to stay awake for isn’t worth losing sleep over in the first place?

New Year’s celebrations are ostensibly about celebrating a new year: by turning a calendar page, everything is different, a clean slate, a newborn ushered into the world in a champagne fountain and by dropping a giant ball. In reality, counting down the new year is an exercise in vanity and self-sanctification: by accepting the narrative, revelers justify a year of normalcy and mediocrity by getting wasted–baptism?–because the digits at the end of the timestamp go up by one.

We don’t celebrate the newness of the year; we’re trying to forgive ourselves for not doing more with the old one. Epilogomena.

Don’t believe me? Consider the shared societal anxiety toward the end of 1999. Nearly every single one of us was convinced that something–subtle or severe–was going to happen: the power would go out, financial records vanish, computers crashing worldwide, apocalypse. (Apologies for the resolution quality in that link. Seldom does the Zapruder film look like 1080p.) It’s an extreme example, but it’s enough of a reductio ad absurdum to tell us that New Year’s Eve is a misnomer; what we’re really doing is drowning our sorrows on Old Year’s End.

(Also, while I’m thinking of it, a brief EDITORIAL ASIDE: our church hosted a transcendent, unintentionally-comedic y2k awareness event at which an expert of some sort discussed, with breathless seriousness, contingency plans and stockpiling months of canned food and water. This meeting also happened to draw out the until-then unknown militia demographic in the 715 who, during the Q&A portion of the meeting began asking, in increasing volume and furor, about stockpiling guns and ammunition. I wish I were making this up. Needless to say, given how far we’ve devolved as a society in a scant 12 years hence, I’m confident we won’t have to worry about what y3k might do. I digress.)

Face it: people don’t get plastered at christenings, they do so at wakes.

Similarly, weddings aren’t a commencement of new life anymore, if they were were to begin with; but the shackling of two people together, a loss of freedom for the perceived–or, I suppose, actual–shared misery of monogamous existence.

And in so doing, we show just how terrified we are of our shared future, shared fate. We abandon the present to forget the past and, simultaneously, damn the future. One of the very few churches in the world I support and can endorse knows the score: they’re doing pancakes and virgin Bloody Marys on 1 January, calling it Hangover Sunday. At least they’re catering to a crowd; and know with whom who they’re supposed to be interacting.

I apologize in advance for invoking Bono but, indeed, nothing changes on New Year’s Day. The present is always with us, it is always here. The lunacy of tacitly assigning importance to dates and times–and then tacitly deciding those important dates and times are so important that there is no personal responsibility to be assigned to them at all–is no better exemplified than what is planned to take place in two days. Or in hard-line abstinence, for that matter: what difference does it make if an engaged couple has sex days before the wedding? What difference does it make if they get married and don’t have sex? The value is placed on precisely the wrong nouns. It’s who, not what or when. As it is with anything else in life. When the what or when determines the who, then we wind up precisely where we are, as persons and as a society.

In the interest of fairness, this is not exclusively a condemnation of secular rite and ritual, but of churches who insist on doing the same thing in an equally self-important self-righteous way: lock-ins, prayer meetings, midnight movies, etc., for they are already suffocating under their self-imposed eschatological burden of epilogomena. There are no innocent parties here.

So, I offer my suggestion for new year’s resolution: starting now, live in a way that requires no need to apologize for your existence by deluding yourself into thinking that you’ve earned the right to have a hangover on Sunday. This year will die, as has every year that has gone before, and every year that will follow until the end of time. The only noun that will ever be most important is person over place or thing. We don’t live because we die, we die so that others live. In so doing, we defy epilogomena and choose to be present, and ascribe value to everyone over ourselves.

vous êtes mon cadeau; vous êtes mon futur.


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