Franke: My New Year’s Resolution
by Mark Franke
It’s that time of year when all insist on putting themselves through the annual ritual of making New Year’s resolutions, resolutions honored mostly in the breach. Instead, I intend to spend my intellectual energy reflecting on the major issues of our day.
Why does January 1 get to be the start of the new year? Why not March 25 or March 1? This is no flippant question. These dates were the mark of the new year in centuries past. Even Easter was unofficially the mark for the new year’s coming for tribes recently converted to Christianity.
I know January is the month closest to the winter solstice, that mini-second in time each Dec. 22 or thereabouts when the sun is farthest away. If the day is shortest then in terms of sunlight, marking its nadir makes sense. But why not renumber the days so that Dec. 22 becomes Jan. 1? That would be more logical and, given that I am of German heritage, I like order.
The problem is that this rationale only works for the northern half of the globe. My friends from Australia tell me that their New Year’s Day is when the days begin getting shorter. Does that make any sense? If I can figure that out, I may take on the epistemological question of why toilets flush clockwise south of the equator while swirling counterclockwise here.
I realize the actual moment of the solstice can drift by a day every so often, but we already have leap year to realign our calendar every four years. Except for the year 2000, which still has me metaphysically scratching my forehead.
This philosophical question did not just arise while I was in my cups. I recall learning in an elementary school history class that colonial America observed the official new year on March 25. It was an act of Parliament in 1750 that moved it to Jan. 1 as the collateral damage of replacing the antiquated Julian calendar with the Gregorian. Poor Caesar; first he gets assassinated then proto-wokists cancel his calendar. Sic transit gloria.
Our Anglo-Saxon political forebears assumed the year changed in November when their winter season began. This was an agricultural calendar whose seasons preceded ours by about six weeks. I guess they assumed the year changed once all the harvest was in. Makes sense to me
One practical problem is inserting the falderal of New Year’s Eve into the middle of what traditionally is the Christmas season. Remember that song about the 12 days of Christmas? New Year’s is day eight, representing a secularized interruption of the sacred season. I know; the Christmas season is now nothing more than a retail saturnalia of consumer spending beginning sometime around Halloween and ending with a punctuated exclamation mark at midnight on Dec. 25. Note how the TV commercials change; do we see any snow in commercials after Christmas Day?
Wouldn’t New Year’s Eve be much more fun in July? The parties could be outside, the barbecue grille fully aflame and no worry about driving home on icy roads. Plus we could benefit from our political masters’ distortion of the diurnal clock with profane daylight savings time. It will be light outside until 10 p.m.
Of course Congress would succumb to the uncontrollable urge to mandate that New Year’s Day always fall on a Monday. Or it could just merge it with Independence Day and make it a four-day weekend to keep the federal employee unions happy.
Perhaps I am overthinking this. I can tell when I do that; my wife rolls her eyes and tells me to clean up the stack of books on the floor of my study. I clean it up and then it just grows again like Topsy. Something nefarious is at work here. Maybe it is Amazon, which feeds more than one of my addictions.
In the final analysis Caesar wins from the grave. The ancient Romans gave the month of January, named for the god Janus who was their god of beginnings, primacy in the calendar. We just can’t escape those pesky Romans.
One final reflection: The fact that I can spend my time worrying to death such a trivial subject rather than fretting about how to house, clothe and feed my family is sobering albeit in a pleasant way. For everything that appears to be going wrong in this country, and I have my rather lengthy list, so much more still is right.
Curmudgeon that I am, I can appreciate the blessings bestowed on America and me personally. So perhaps I do have a New Year’s resolution for 2023. I resolve to work harder at suppressing the curmudgeon and freeing the thankful inner me.
That should prove more beneficial to those around me than however much weight I lose or daily steps I take.
Blessings to the poor in spirit, especially in this year of our Lord 2023.
Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.