If you were, as I was, subjected to learning Latin — based on the dubious premise that the subject would help you on standardized tests — you may recall Janus,
If you were, as I was, subjected to learning Latin — based on the dubious premise that the subject would help you on standardized tests — you may recall Janus, the god of beginnings, time, and doorways, and the namesake for the month of January. The exact reason that January 1 became the first day of the calendar year is open to argument among historians, but — give or take a few BC decades — New Year’s Day has been celebrated on January 1 for several thousand years.
For decades of my own life, though, it seemed far more logical that the new year should begin in September. Vacations and camp were over, school started, a tired season yielded to a new one with brighter colors and cooler mornings. And in four months’ time, Christmas would come. There was something special about returning to school and seeing that spanking-new, sparkling-white, beautifully blank calendar on the wall.
Surely something in us all longs to go back to that sweet buzz of simple newness. Resolutions can be made and remade daily, but there’s only one day that’s the first day of a new year stretching ahead, pristine and full of possibility.
What was New Year’s Eve? Something I wasn’t invited to.
I have a pal who, no matter what, refuses to turn the family calendar over to the new year until the old year has actually, technically, ended. “It drives my mother-in-law nuts,” he says. But calendars are like chili and coleslaw recipes: Everyone’s permitted their personal eccentricities. You need your daily vocabulary word, or Bible verse, or literary quote, or cell phone reminder ding. At the end of every week, I tear off the previous pages, no matter how mournful or joyful or neutral those days were. By December, when the old year has grown small, my spiral-bound datebook has likewise grown as skinny as a waning moon, withered and shriveled as an empty muscadine skin. My daughter is horrified by my habit; she prefers to look back, discover what birthday idea or book title or hike suggestion she jotted down.
But, oh, a new calendar. The pleasant heft of it. The glorious emptiness of it. Unblemished. Unused. Waiting for me to turn its first leaf, fill the first square. To begin, well, anew, with a new year.
It’s time again: to celebrate or merely await, and then be grateful for January. In years past, I’ve rung in the new year in Atlanta with friends and in England with family. In Wrightsville Beach and in Blowing Rock, with one other couple at a dining room table and with hundreds in a hotel ballroom. I’ve celebrated New Year’s Day with Bloody Marys and football and chili, and in bed with chicken noodle soup and the flu. With Solo cups and silver goblets, in denim and in dazzle. On New Year’s Eve, I’ve stayed up until 2 a.m. and gone to bed at 10 p.m., and you know what? The new year came all those times, and it was just as welcome. I’ve eaten crowders when I couldn’t find black-eyes, Neese’s sausage patties when I forgot to thaw the pork shoulder, and canned turnip greens when I couldn’t find fresh collards. And you know what? The new year came anyway, and it held just as much promise.
It’s time again: to celebrate or merely await, and then be grateful for January.
And we are so very, very ready for a new year. So very ready to look forward and backward, as the Roman god Janus is often depicted, at 2020’s departure. Queen Elizabeth II apparently knows a little Latin. She declared 1992 her annus horribilis, which translates as “horrible year.” The phrase’s opposite is annus mirabilis, meaning “wonderful year.” In 1992, the queen had only her kin to blame for her woes; she had no clue what was coming down the pike. Well into adulthood, if a particular day had been horribilis for me, if I’d wept or been disconsolate or downhearted, my father would routinely, predictably, ask the next day, “Did the sun come up this morning?”
On January 1, 2021, in the bleak midwinter, as the hymn lyric goes, the sun will rise over the horizon of the Atlantic Ocean. Its rays will work their way over fishing shacks and wind-swept sands and harbor villages. Over fallow fields and rutted roads and shuttered produce stands; over historic churches and humble tobacco barns. Into the Piedmont, then, where dawn will break over golf courses and universities and factories. Highways and suburbs and steeples — always steeples — will be graced by its golden beams. Soundlessly, nearly imperceptibly, warmth will steal over stadiums and greenways and into the foothills, then overtake orchards and parks and fingered lakes. Soon, rock faces and mountain waterfalls will glisten with daybreak’s illumination. And still, the sun’s rays creep and reach: over winding rivers and snow-covered valleys, Christmas tree farms and ski slopes and tendrils of chimney smoke from high, hidden cabins. Beyond the Blue Ridge and on to, into, the Great Smokies, this small miracle will usher in a new year for this marvelous state, this wondrous place we call home.
And so we turn the calendar page. We cope. We hope. Like Janus, we look to new beginnings. We welcome January with optimism and a grand, undimmable expectation for an annus mirabilis. Happy New Year.