The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Monday, January 03, 2005

HAPPY NEW YEAR: New Year’s Day has come and gone for another year, happily enough, marking the end of yet another holiday shopping season. There’s still another six days of Christmas, of course, complete with lords a-leaping and drummers drumming and pipers piping, but at this point if the lords go a-leaping to pipe and drums the neighbors will call the police and have them arrested for disturbing the peace. People will only tolerate the holiday mosh pit for so long before it starts grating on everyone’s nerves.

And let’s face it, for all the talk of the twelve days of Christmas, everyone knows that these days we’re stuck with thirty official days of Christmas, starting with Thanksgiving, and then there is the unofficial Christmas shopping season, which begins on Labor Day now and will probably start on the Fourth of July in a few years. So by the time New Year’s Eve rolls around we are all ready to shout Happy New Year, kiss our nearest and dearest, sing Auld Lang Syne even if we don’t know what the hell the words mean, and then say the hell with it for another year. Think about how fast you stop saying Happy New Year; does anyone say it after the first week of January? Say it during the third week of the month and people will look at you as if you had more than a few screws loose. And it’s probably no coincidence that the third week of January is about the time you forget all about the resolutions you made on New Year’s Eve and have that extra slice of blueberry pie to top off the three you’ve already had.

The first day of January didn’t always have these problems. For centuries January 1st wasn’t New Year’s Day at all; March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation, or Lady Day, as people called it before Billie Holiday got a hold of the name, was New Year’s Day. This caused a widespread confusion among people used to starting months on the first and led to a widespread demand for calendar reform by the seventy-nine people in medieval Europe who actually cared about this sort of thing. The peasantry of the time was a bit suspicious of the whole concept of calendar reform, the words day, night, spring, summer, fall, and winter comprising their whole conception of time.

January 1st was just the seventh day of Christmas, content with its seven swans a-swimming and probably a good deal happier without all the added stress and responsibility Pope Gregory XIII decided to dump on it. Gregory decided without so much as a by your leave from anyone that the calendar needed reforming and that he was just the man to do the reforming. Because of Gregory and his need to show off, students of comparative literature are stuck with the anomaly of William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes dying on the same date, but not the same day in 1616. Reform is a good thing every so often, but reformers tend to go overboard with it. If he really wanted to reform something he should’ve started with Popes using the same names over and over again. I mean, really, thirteen Gregorys, thirteen Leos, twelve Piuses, and twenty-three Johns? This shows a definite lack of papal imagination and bodes ill for someone running a large multinational body like the Roman Catholic Church. No one is suggesting they name themselves Pope Harmony or Pope Sunshine, unless they are bishops from California, but there are plenty of unused papal names out there. Try Pope Francis or Pope Patrick or Pope Thomas, for example. Since Peter there’s been 265 popes; they should do something so the faithful can pick them out of the papal mob as it saunters by.

Part of the problem is that New Year’s, with its quick countdown and sudden midnight rush, is a hit off the old holiday crack pipe. No sooner has the holiday arrived then it disappears, and let’s face it, all the excitement of the day comes on New Year’s Eve, New Year’s itself being little more than an excuse to watch college football and test hangover remedies.

Perhaps the solution to this problem lies in the large scale Hispanic migration to the United States. With its cultural gift giving emphasis on the Feast of the Epiphany, or Tres Reyes (Three Kings, and not the movie of the same name, although it makes a nice gift) in Spanish, and the spread of the celebration into Anglo America, retailers will have another chance to make good on bad Christmas sales, and the vast majority of children will certainly welcome another chance to get that bicycle that Santa Claus forgot to bring on Christmas Eve. Children will inundate post offices throughout the land with pleading letters to the Three Kings and leave fresh hay and water outside their homes for the Kings’ camels. One imagines that some kids will try to play Santa Claus and the Three Kings off of each other, in order to see who will bring the adorable little hobgoblins the best toys. The only people likely to object to this stretching of the already nearly infinite and way too expensive Christmas season are parents, and one can assume that a well-directed ad campaign aimed at their children will have parents surrendering in droves to the incessant whining of their progeny in no time at all, thereby insuring healthy sales and a booming economy for many years to come. It will be a boon to education as well, as children learn to whine in English and Spanish in order to cover all the linguistic bases.

With a powerful Thanksgiving and Christmas preceding it, and a robust Three Kings Day supporting it from the rear, New Year’s will at last have the psychic support necessary to become a great holiday. The days of being simply an excuse to get drunk will come to an end. Thus will New Year’s Day take its proper place in the proud panoply of American celebration, ending forever its status as a Christmas afterthought, the happy holiday you'd prefer not to think about, an undeserving day that somehow hit the chronological jackpot at best, and at worst, the perhaps unwitting cat’s-paw in a fiendish papal plot to kill time before it kills us.


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