“On New Year’s Eve, at about quarter to twelve o’clock at night, the master of the house and all that are with him go about from room to room opening every door and window, however cold the weather be, for thus, they say, the old year and its burdens can go out and leave everything new for hope and for the youth of the coming time. This also is a superstition, and of the best. Those who observe it trust that it is as old as Europe, with roots stretching back into foreign times.”
Hilaire Belloc, A Remaining Christmas
Human life comes in years. Nature itself has determined this for us. The movement of the earth gives us discreet, repeating segments of time, and segments within segments. Most of all, it gives us years. 1976, 1995, 2013. My life is a series of years; some stand out from the others, but all have made up who I am.
Certain times call for a special attention to time. The days leading up to and including January 1st prod us to look backward and forward. While it would be too much always to look to and fro, we should take this as a special opportunity to look intently at the past year, and the upcoming year. There is surely much to see.
Looking back we take stock: of failures, and successes; perhaps most of all we should focus on how blessed we have been—even, and perhaps especially, in the face of sorrows we never anticipated. Looking forward we realize yet again just what a challenge it is to be human: to live up to the demands of the various relationships in which we stand. We decide on new practices, or perhaps old ones, that aid us to become our truer selves.
Hilaire Belloc recounts with approval an ancient tradition in England of opening doors and windows at the opening of New Year’s. This is a bodily incarnation of looking back and looking forward. With hope.
Though this particular tradition will not fit for everyone, all of us can take a cue from it. It is right and fitting that we keep the tradition of focusing on the passage of time, reflecting on what it means and what response it demands of us. And we should in some way enact this reflection with bodily ritual—-whether at midnight, or the evening prior, or the morning after—-in the presence, or even the pregnant absence, of those we love.
Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953), born of a French father and English mother, was a poet, historian, and essayist.