On this first day of January 1, in true Japanese fashion I am wishing you each one a Happy New Year! 明けまして、おめでとう御座います。(If you don’t have Japanese fonts loaded on your computer, you may not be able to see the Japanese words in the previous sentence.)
According to the Oriental zodiac of East Asia, today is the beginning of the Year of the Tiger. Traditionally, the new year does not begin until late January or February; this year the “Chinese New Year” begins on February 14. But for a long time now, Japan has celebrated January 1 as New Year’s Day, while retaining many of the ancient traditions.
This is “my” year, for I was born in the Year of the Tiger. It’s common in Japan to find out how old people are by asking what their zodiac sign is. (There is a sign for each of twelve years, not for months within the year.) It is fairly easy to guess what year a person was born in if you know their sign. (I hope no one mistakenly thinks I will be 84, although I would be happy to pass for 60!)
While not hesitating to celebrate the new year, whether in the West or in the East, I do have a bit of a problem with emphasizing a circular way or thinking rather than a linear one. Years ago, a Japanese friend pointed out that from Christianity’s linear viewpoint there is no qualitative difference between January 1 and any other day of the year. The Christian (as well as the Jewish or Muslim) worldview is based on history rather than nature.
Thus, it is more significant that today is the beginning of the year 2010 than it is January 1; the year is based on historical progression, the date on the revolution of the earth around the sun. The latter is sometimes linked to “the myth of eternal return” (Eliade), which I see as being at odds with the Judeo-Christian worldview. For that reason, I have some problem with the “church year” emphasis, as to some extent it is based on the concept of circularity rather than linearity.
To remember the significant events in the life of Christ each year is good, of course. But do we really need to wait all during Advent to celebrate the coming of Christ if we know he was born over 2,000 years ago? And do we need to be sorrowful through Lent if we know that Jesus has already been resurrected and we are living in the joy of new life?
I think there is significant meaning in the old saying, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” That is true every day, not just on New Year’s Day. Each day we are challenged to move forward, not in a circle. So, thinking about the path that you are travelling into the future, I pray that each of you will be blessed with health and happiness in the coming year. And may you find strength for the journey and joy in the struggle for peace and justice in each of the 365 days—and the 1,000 days—that lie ahead.