New Years: A Totally Arbitrary Marker for Real Change


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My partner is an astronomer, and a couple of years ago, I asked him a question I had never really thought about before. “Is there any reason that our calendar year starts on January 1? I mean, isn’t that date rather arbitrary?”

Our 365 day year is based on the earth’s revolution around the sun, but astronomically speaking, the year could start at any point on that revolution journey. It turns out that January 1 is a rather arbitrary date to reset our calendar.

I think about this every year when we cross over from December 31 to January 1. But I don’t find the arbitrary nature of the shift to be deflating. I actually find it to be heartening. As people agree upon a collective marker to honor change, the collective energy results in actual change.

We know that New Year’s resolutions don’t usually result in permanent shifts in our individual lives. That may be true, but an arbitrary marker does actually change things. Around the world, we have playful rituals to honor New Year’s Eve and the shift from one year to the next. The customs vary, but this arbitrary date does manage to connect the world. That certainly changes things.

But I recognize this too: When we observe this date together and put our collective energy toward rituals and purposeful reflection, we end up refreshing our hopes as well.

In many cases, challenges from our previous year remain firmly intact, but as we cross over a completely arbitrary marker, we somehow manage to reevaluate our relationship to those very challenges. We hope for new visions, and we resolve to work toward them.

So hats off to our arbitrary, agreed upon date and time. It makes me wonder what else we could shift if we continued to observe hope in collective ways.

Renee Roederer 


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