I woke up on New Year’s day and realised that for too many reasons it was one of the worst days of the year to have to write a blog.
Not only is there the reality of the weird norm that if you’re not hungover on the 1st January then somehow, you’ve done it wrong, but I actually think the entire narrative that, suddenly, we must reflect on the highs and lows of the last year and commit to resolutions that will surely make this one better than the last, all in one day, is actually quite paralysing.
I’ve never made a genuine New Year’s resolution and have generally avoided using first of January for processing anything at all, instead finding myself doing such reflection on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Having to write this today has forced me to fight the New Year’s lull and I’ve been trying to work out why I, and so many I’ve spoken to, receive the Jewish new year and the Gregorian new year so differently.
To put it bluntly, I think that New Years traditions - in the UK at least - has actually become really quite arbitrary. The traditions we see every year are maintained by social norms not by intention.
I know that, even though this perhaps wasn’t the case when I was younger, my reflections on the year are far more genuine and hold much more meaning if I invest in them during the Jewish festivals, and particularly Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The use of prayer and ritual, along with being surrounded by a community of people who are reflecting together with you, creates meaning and purpose behind this yearly reflection, instead of just wanting to have something to post about on social media.
Arguably, the secular reality of the New Year means that for someone like me, who often engages with meaning and reflection within some form of Jewish context, the Gregorian New Year long-ago settled into a purely social event; celebrating nothing more than 365 days since the last time I shouted a drunken countdown of the seconds until midnight whilst watching through a screen the London Eye fireworks that, for all I know, are also exactly the same as they were a year ago.
Don’t get me wrong, part of me loves this yearly ‘special’ night out, but I can’t help but feel like this almost-universally celebrated day could be more than just another night of the year that abides by deeply entrenched normative traditions. By no means would I want to try to recreate what I think Rosh Hashanah uniquely offers for me just on January 1st, but I do feel like there are ways to make this night more than just another night out.
I know I’d conclude that getting the perfect balance for me is definitely about surrounding myself with people who make and find meaning with me.
A year ago, I left the worst club I’ve ever been to (yes, worse than Durham) in Tel Aviv at 12:02 and talked over chips on a pitch-black beach, whilst the tide came in. Last night, in a high-walled London garden some of the most important people in my life counted down to the New Year and opened the obligatory Tesco prosecco, before returning to lose track of time talking about the world. Both of these nights I spent with Jewish friends – maybe a coincidence, maybe not.
The final part in what I’m sure is already too much to be reading in the first month of 2018 is this: a friend told me that apparently New Year’s is the day that Jesus, who was born Jewish, was circumcised (as this is traditionally performed 8 days after birth). After checking whether this was actually true, I realised that that also makes the 1st January the day the Jesus was officially given his name.
This reminded me of a piece of text I studied last year about names and I think this provides perfect food for a bit more intentional thought this New Year’s Day:
“In life, you discover that people are called by three names: One is the name the person is called by their father and mother; one is the name people call them; and one is the name they acquire for themselves. The best one is the one they acquire for themselves.” (Tanchuma, Vayak’heil 1)
Asha Sumroy is one of the JC's regular student bloggers for 2017-18. She is studying at Durham University.