Happy New Year!

by Mr. Sheehy

As far as I’m concerned, today is New Year’s Eve, and though I plan to go to bed early, I still say today is more exciting than December 31st. What, really, is anyone excited about on December 31st? New beginnings? Does anyone really feel that January 1st provides us with new beginnings? Even the classic tradition of making resolutions comes with the cynical understanding that our resolutions are mostly jokes – and if not jokes, then merely faint longings to be better people, the kind of longings we know are unlikely to happen. I can’t say for sure why New Year’s seems so meaningless, but I suspect part of it is our culture – we don’t have traditional celebrations with roots in antiquity, like China, which marks the new year with style and significance.

Or maybe it’s just me and my pragmatic nature. I can’t celebrate for the sake of celebrating. Watching a glowing ball slide slowly down a pole thrills me none, because in 29 years I have marked nothing notably different about life after the ball drops when compared to life before it drops. It’s like a dog with all bark and no bite, but I am expecting a bite.

All this leads me to my new New Year’s Day. In our American culture, we do have a time when we get new beginnings, but it’s not in January. It’s around Labor Day, when school begins. Every student gets to begin something new each year (even the people who are repeating) – a new grade, new teachers, new classrooms, new classes, and a chance to start from scratch no matter what happened the year before. That’s worth celebrating, and I’m convinced it’s the reason a palpable excitement hangs in schools’ hallways near the end of August.

Though not officially, my family celebrated the beginning of this New Year, beginning as fresh as possible. We bought new clothes, new paper, new binders, pens, and pencils. We planned what we were going to wear on the first day not because we were concerned with being cool, but because we were so busy anticipating that we had to occupy ourselves somehow. We were not ready for or excited about homework, and we were a little concerned that we wouldn’t like some of our teachers, but that did not sap our excitement, because until the year had actually progressed, all these things hung in limbo: maybe the glass would be half empty or maybe half full, but we couldn’t decide for a couple weeks.

Maybe I am a crazy teacher who has been stuck in the world of school too long. Maybe. But why do television stations begin their new seasons in the fall? And why do we take our summer vacations in late summer? Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer – the end of the season of playing and the beginning of the year for earnest work. Culturally, I’m guessing we have all conditioned ourselves a lot like school, and we all get a little excited about the beginning of the year – in September.

So I’m celebrating my New Year’s tomorrow, September 5th, by meeting new students and beginning new classes. We’re venturing into the unknown, and that’s a New Year with teeth, as far as I’m concerned. So Happy New Year.

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