New Year rituals and resolutions

Car horns are blaring in the distance, the sky is intermittently lit by small sparks firing off in anticipation, bodies on the streets are scurrying around in an agitated frenzy of last minute shopping, and most people I know are busy deliberating which event to choose for the compulsory festivities of the “big night.” After indulging, somewhat mechanically, in this repetitive, noisy ritual for decades, I began to reflect on the meaning of New Year’s Eve. Although I was convinced that it was a modern, semi-Christian ritual, some digging revealed its pagan origins. The earliest new-year-type celebrations occurred in Mesopotamia around 2000 BC, in the form of eleven-day festivities at the time of the spring equinox in March, which coincided, symbolically, with the season of rebirth. January 1st was adopted as a marker of the New Year in 46 BC, when Julius Caesar officially codified the 12 month solar-based calendar (it was already in place for some time, but not observed), replacing the ancient 10 month calendar that was based on moon cycles. The first month of the new calendar was displaced from March to the newly invented January, which derived its name from Janus, the god of gates and doors, who had two faces, one looking backwards and the other turned forward. (more…)


Woman, I bow to you

I walked into the basement of an old house, which suddenly transformed into an attic room with a skylight looking out into the universe. I opened the window and climbed out to the roof. There was a metal staircase leading upwards into the stars. After I reached the 10th step, the staircase disappeared under my feet, but I continued to climb, jumping on purple clouds interspersed between the stars. I saw a white, glowing doorway without a door. When I stepped through the treshold to the other side I found myself in an emerald green forest. I heard the sound of a waterfall in the distance, and birds singing all around me. I realized my back was hunched over because I was carrying a heavy bag on my back, a brown burlap sack, like I imagine travelers might have had centuries ago. I walked along a path and came to a crossroad where I saw an old man with long silvery hair and a golden crown. He said, I will take your burden. I told him I didn’t have any burdens. He asked me to remove what was in my burlap sack. I opened it and saw it was a kind of crystal ball – or more like a plastic ball with snowflakes one finds in souvenir shops – in which a film was playing. Actually it was a music video of a Moldovan ballad* I recognized, sung by a type of Robin Hood outlaw (called “Haiduc” in folk stories), pledging his heart and inordinate reverence to a young peasant girl wearing a crown of flowers, who made rivers flow and blades of wheat grow wherever her feet touched the ground. A semi-modern version of an archaic fairy tale, which I found poetic and beautiful. The king said, let it go, and held his hand out for the crystal ball. And something in me cringed, I didn’t want to give it away, it was part of me, and I wanted to carry it even if it was preventing me from walking upright. The king put together some branches and lit a fire by touching them with his finger. He asked me for the ball again, which I reluctantly handed over, and threw it into the fire. It began to melt like the liquid mercury of a thermometer, seeping out in grayish puddles over the ground. He then blew the fire out and walked away with my empty sack, leaving me alone in the forest. (more…)