Dear Family and Friends:
I don’t mean to sound like the old Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes fame, but…We Jews are a funny People. And I don’t mean funny Ha Ha. Most of us celebrate two new years each year. The first is in the fall around September or October. That’s Rosh Ha Shannah, literally “The head of the year". It comes from our Torah, Leviticus 23:23. This Jewish New Year begins the ten days of Awe in which we reflect and repent and by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement are ready to confess our sins and try again. So this Jewish New Year is not celebrated with fireworks and Champagne; it’s a bit more solemn. On Rosh Ha Shannah Jews greet each other saying, “L’Shannah Tovah,” for a good year, “Shannah Tovah,” a good year, or “Good Yom Tov,” literally good, good day, but meaning, good holiday. No one says Happy or good JEWISH New Year. We know the Jewish…no need to say it.
So I’m wondering why many Jews greet each other after midnight on December 31st with, “Happy SECULAR new year.” Is there someone out there that might be confused and think that the January 1st holiday might be the Jewish holiday so we have to define it with the word “Secular?” I don’t think so. Although on New Year’s Eve some people might wear funny hats and blow horns like we Jews do in our synagogues on Rosh Ha Shannah (we may wear a Kippah and blow a Shofar) but they don’t party like it’s 5778 (thank goodness, because we don’t party at all). Do people want to emphasize that this is not the “real” New Year, it’s the Secular New Year? That the real one happens in the fall? Do those “Happy secular New Year” wishing folks give that same greeting to non-Jews on December 31st? Or is it just a Jew-to-Jew thing? I think we should celebrate the holiday without the label. Sure, when we explain to a non-Jew what Rosh Ha Shannah is we say, “It’s the JEWISH New Year. Everyone knows that the other New Year, the one that’s not Jewish, is the January 1st one.
This year the Chinese New Year falls on February 16th. I’m sure Chinese people will not be wishing each other, “Happy Chinese New Year.” And I imagine that any Chinese folks celebrating on January 1st will not be saying, “Happy non-Chinese New Year.”
In a few days I will celebrate my birthday. Now I don’t know what the Jewish calendar date was 72 years ago when yours truly made his inglorious entrance into this world. We didn’t pay much attention to the Jewish calendar in my family. We were happy if we could remember the correct day in January. So I would be astonished if anyone would greet me next week with, “Happy secular birthday.” That would be so weird. So why the ‘Secular’ New Year?
Now here’s another thing. We are told in the Torah to celebrate this holiday of the sounding of the horns on the first day of the 7th month (Tishrei) of the year. Go figure. The beginning of the Jewish year comes on the seventh month of the year. I guess it makes sense. You could designate any day to be the beginning. Rosh Ha Shannah is said to be the birthday of the world …when the world was created. So it is just like when a person is born. That’s the beginning of their counting. We live a year and then turn one. The world just had its 5778th birthday and we called it Rosh Ha Shannah.
So why is January 1st the New Year? Maybe someone 2018 years ago decided we needed another winter, darkest- time- of- the- year holiday to cheer us up. “Hey, let’s do New Years on January 1. We could shoot off fireworks, wear funny hats, have a few drinks, etc.?” But what if someone else said, “No. Let’s do it in June…say June 12th. Yah, that’s the ticket. That’s a good day. And that way no one will have to stand out in the cold to watch the ball drop (or in Indy the race car drop).” But obviously January 1st won out.
So probably, if you are one of the “Happy Secular New Year” wishers, this blog doesn’t sit right with you. This is such a small point I’d say, “Forget about it.” Better to say happy secular New Year than to say nothing at all.
But if anyone comes up to me and wishes me a happy secular birthday, I’ll say back, “Thank you.” But I’ll be thinking, “Bah Humbug.”
Happy new year to all…and to all a good night.
PS. And to everyone in Israel, Yom Sylvester Sameach!”
PPS. And I was also wondering; if they drop a ball in New York and a race car in Indianapolis, what do they drop in Boston? Beans? In Chicago? A huge deep dish pizza?
(I clearly have to get out of the house more).