"All the ridiculousness about the false millennium* distracts the informed from the fact that 2000 is nonetheless exciting, in that the 1900s have come to a close. Nothing seems to have blown up. If Christ is coming, he’s late. My computer continues to function, as do my electric lights. No longer shall we have to hear or think about the Y2K bug. MCMXCIX has collapsed into the simplistically palindromic MM."
–Short Round, a senior in college
Jan. 1, 2000, 4:25 a.m.
That there are 24 hours in the day is more or less aribitrary. That we use base ten is not: count your fingers.† Seven days in the week? Arbitrary. Twelve months? Arbitrary. But a day is the amount of time the earth takes to spin all the way around, and a year is the amount of time it takes to circle the sun.‡
So what, though? Who cares whether we've circled the sun? And why Dec. 31, particularly? A circle has no beginning or end; therefore any day could just as easily be the beginning of the new year.
Dec. 31 is arbitrary. But I was thinking about it last night and realized that the real reason Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 matter—the reason a new year matters no matter where you start and end it—is basically the opportunity it affords us. I'm sure I'm not saying anything new: after all, what's the tradition of New Year's resolutions if not an acknowledgement of all this? But maybe the reason New Year's matters to us, maybe the reason it makes us feel like celebrating or anyway making some kind of deal about it, is that life is just a series of todays and todays and todays that can feel endless in a way that traps and oppresses, and we're always excited to get a chance for a new beginning.
Should we need a special event to have a new beginning? No. Shouldn't we live every day as if it's a new beginning? Sure. Maybe. Probably. However, realistically, it's helpful to have something like this handed to you. Of course that's also why New Year's can be so depressing: we expect everything to be big, to be exciting, to change, and in the end Jan. 1 is just another day, 12:01 a.m. just another minute.
But who cares what it "really" is? If it works, it works. And maybe (going pretty much exactly against what I just said two sentences ago) knowing why it works will make it work better, calibrate our expectations, make us realize that what's going on is that we have a chance to assert to ourselves that we've come upon a chapter break, a new start—which means, of course, that it's up to us to make it good. It's not magic, folks.
So let's be excited, and let's not be disappointed, and let's kick the shit out of twenty ten.
* There was no year zero; therefore the second millennium ended on Dec. 31, 2000. You know this.
† Apologies to the fingerless.
‡ A thought: the fact that we need a leap year every four years means that the year and the day are not in fact in sync—there are 365¼ days in the year, innit? (365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes, and 12 seconds, says Wikipedia)—which wouldn't that mean not only that we have a leap year every four years, but also that New Year's falls on midnight only once every four years??