The New Year: easier to swallow

I’ve never understood the whole New Year thing. Sure, I know that there has to be a new year, if only for purely practical reasons — after all, without an annual numeric turnover there’d be obvious problems. Among other things, we’d have to sort out having November over and over again; Dick Clark would lose his one-day-a-year job; and our grandparents would never have gotten rid of Warren Harding.

But, the first day of January? I know it’s based on the whole Janus thing (the ancient “god of the doorway,” that two-faced dude who looked both forward and backward, and from whom we get the name January), but it still doesn’t make good sense, even from an Old Farmer’s Almanac (OFA) standpoint — 10 days after the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, what’s up with that? And, let’s face it, Jan. 1st looks an awful lot like Dec. 31st around here; there’s hardly anything new going on.

If we are going to have a new year, and we must, I say the nascent day should hinge on some singular annual event that clearly delineates the aged from the novel, the passé from the fresh, the composting from the sprouting; some forward-looking happening that eagerly shouts newness. And it should be, if not exactly phenomenal, at least exciting enough to make you set your teacup down, jump up out of your chair, rejoice and grab your wife and dance her around the old dining room like a teenager.

It would have to be something predictable, tried and true, and tied to the circle of the sun, something you could count on happening at about the same time every 365.25 days, but with perhaps a bit of intrigue and mystery — not something you could time precisely with a calendar, a stopwatch, and a falling crystal ball.

I’ve given this a lot of thought and have some suggestions, all allied somehow to spring (an obvious new-beginnings metaphor if there ever was one, if also awkward from the perspective of the OFA): the day the first asparagus spear thrusts up through the soil; that delicious evening when the first peeper peeps; the day the snow melts down to grass over the septic tank; the day the sump pump in our wet cellar chugs away for the first time; the day we can finally get out the front door again after a heavy winter; the first day we can fling a cat outside without him rebounding instantly off the ice to cling to the window screen and yowl. I also thought of some goofy stuff.

Now, as captivating as some of these ideas are (the sound of peepers in the swamp actually sends chills up my spine), they seem to me to lack a certain intrepid daring. This is the first day of a new year after all, perhaps the New Year — the year you’re actually going to get it done (whatever it is). So, I think we should celebrate something spontaneous and dramatic (yet in an inevitable sort of way), something you could point at and yell, for instance, “Look, here comes 1967!”

And so, I vote for barn swallows.

You see, we have this missing board on our barn that makes a two-foot, diagonal, black gash in the big sliding front door (hey, if you were 192 years old, you’d have a few loose clapboards, too). Each year on the perfect day, the barn swallows return (just like at Capistrano, but without the palm trees and bells) to wheel and dart into the barn through that narrow gash (at nearly the speed of sound) and alight on the old chestnut beams to begin their new nesting. Now that seems like a fitting moment to declare the beginning of our novus annus, a moment infused with the hope of new life, yet tinged with just the right amount of drama and uncertainty (on account of the severe banking required to pull off the high-speed approach through the dark gash).

And so I sit here on this, the 122nd day of September (this is my flight of fancy, so I’m perpetuating the month I enjoy most), waiting for the passerine arrival of the new year to wing in on the whoosh and swoop of a barn swallow. It’ll be sometime in April, perhaps early in the month if the spring is a warm one. I’ll let you know.

Please follow and like us: