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Did you know that humans have been celebrating New Year’s since 4,000 years ago in ancient Babylon? And that New Yorkers have been ‘dropping the ball’ at Times Square since the year 1907? It’s the same every year, even during a global pandemic: after the hazy December 26-December 30 period, people anticipate the New Year with a renewed sense of positivity and energy. We prepare fireworks, hoard champagne, and wear glitter and polka dots to welcome the start of the next year. Across countries and cultures, we celebrate: we take stock of the year that’s passed, vow to be a better version of ourselves, and begin anew. But what is it about the approach of December 31 every year that has us feeling nostalgic and excited at the same time?
“It may be that the symbolism we attach to this moment is rooted in one of the most powerful motivations of all: our motivation to survive,” according to David Ropeik, author of How Risky Is It, Really? “Everywhere, New Year’s is a moment to consider our weaknesses and how we might reduce the vulnerabilities they pose—and to do something about the scary powerlessness that comes from thinking about the unsettling unknown of what lies ahead.” Closing the last 365 days with a proper, formal celebration, and welcoming the next 365, is a way of convincing ourselves that we somehow have control.
Furthermore, it being the last day of the year allows us to symbolically leave behind the mistakes of our past. “A New Year doesn’t automatically change us or our outlook on life, but it can serve as a natural starting line for changing both the way we think and the things we do,” says Sharon Sweeney of Pure Healthy Living. Human beings are too emotional, our minds too active and stimulated to live our lives bearing all the weight of our bad decisions, missteps, and regrets in life. By ‘dividing’ our lifetime with occasions like birthdays and New Year’s celebrations, we can close one chapter and begin writing the next.
It can be exhausting to be human. 2020 was particularly difficult. So we celebrate New Year’s not only because we’re grateful for what has been and excited for what’s to come, but also because we are happy to just be. During a New Year’s celebration, we remember the past, the future, and the present. And that’s why it feels so good to count down to midnight on the night of December 31. Here’s hoping we all become better, stronger, and happier in 2021.