2015 Skelly Family Christmas
"To make an end is to make a beginning."

C elebrating New Year's is all about coming to terms with our imperfections and determining not to accept them.

We have the Iraqis to thank for New Year's. Imagine that. Who knew they were party people? We've been ringing out the Old and ringing in the New for four millennia now. And we've been doing it on Jan. 1 ever since Julius Caesar introduced the modern calendar in 49BC.

New Year's Day is likely both the oldest and the most celebrated public holiday in our world and in its history, observed in all countries that follow the Gregorian calendar.

Festivities generally start on the previous evening, the last day of the old year, and continue through parties, public gatherings, firework displays, stroke-of-midnight ceremonies, excessive drinking, hangovers, parades, brunches, lunches and culminating with the last play of the last football bowl game in the wee hours of the morning two days hence.

As a result of all that, the first day back to work after New Year's is pretty much the biggest drag of the whole year, and that seems somehow appropriate.

Just like Christmas, New Year's is the ideal holiday for excessive partying, coming at a time when the crops are all in, there's no work in the fields, people have time on their hands, it's too cold to do much of anything else most places and the beer brewed from the last grain harvest is finally ready to drink.

New Year's is so ingrained in our culture that when Congress first got around to declaring federal holidays, which didn't happen until June 28, 1870, it was one of only four they choose to observe (New Year's Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day), and it was, and remains, the only holiday that has no specific national or religious significance. Basically having a holiday for the sake of having a holiday.

Psychology Today says New Year's "... is rooted in one of the most powerful motivations of all — our motivation to survive.

"As our birthdays do, New Year's day provides us the chance to celebrate having made it through another 365 days, the unit of time by which we keep chronological score of our lives. ... Another year over, and here we still are! Time to raise our glasses and toast our survival!"

Psychology Today notes that the flip side of this is the reassurance, and trail marking, we get from traditional year-end obituary compilations of those who didn't make it to the finish.

Seventh Annual Skelly Family Christmas Video

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New Year's resolutions often deal with treating people better, making new friends, and paying off debts. (Again from PT): "The Babylonians would return borrowed objects. Jews seek, and offer, forgiveness. The Scots go 'first footing,' visiting neighbors to wish them well. How does all this social 'resolving' connect to survival? Simple. We are social animals. We have evolved to depend on others, literally, for our health and safety."

What a perfect holiday for the age of social networking.

Thanks to TV, we are quite used to being at least passive participants in everything important that happens anywhere. National championships, historic moments, regional wars, train wrecks, plane crashes, republican presidential debates: not only are you there, you're there as a full-fledged, fellow member of the human community, shoulder to shoulder with all your BFFs and neighbors and everyone you know and don't know.

Walter Winchell, a pioneer in facilitating viral communal participation in the world's noteworthy moments, used to open his broadcasts with this catchphrase salutation: "Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. America from border to border and coast to coast and all the ships at sea"

The way Winchell saw it was: whatever it was, HE was there to tell you about it. But now we see with our eyes and not our ears. With live transmitted pictures instead of someone else's transmitted words. And we draw our own conclusions, admittedly often wrong. But it's personal.

And in this digital age we can even talk to each other about it in real time with skypes, texts, posts, selfies, instagrams and tweets. In classic 21st century social networking form: you're talking to them about it, but it's still all about you.

PT notes that Jews pray that they will be inscribed in "the Book of Life" for one more year. And it takes note of the myriad good luck rituals integral to New Year practices people engage in hoping to stack fortune's deck to their favor.

"The Dutch, for whom the circle is a symbol of success, eat donuts. Greeks bake special Vassilopitta [sic] cake with a coin inside, bestowing good luck in the coming year on whoever finds it in his or her slice. Fireworks on New Year's Eve started in China millennia ago as a way to chase off evil spirits. ... In a New Year's ritual for many cultures, houses are scrubbed to sweep out the bad vibes and make room for better ones."

PT concludes triumphantly, "So, how do you reassure yourself against the scariest thing the future holds, the only sure thing that lies ahead, the inescapable reality that you will someday die? Pass the donuts, the Vassilopitta and the grapes, light the fireworks, and raise a glass to toast: 'To survival!'"

Maybe in the soaring tradition of overreaching and grandiose aspirational thinking, that seems to be setting the bar a bit low. But maybe, in the end, there's nothing more important you could wish for. If you're just given enough time, maybe you can accomplish on your own all those other things you had planned for your life.

Here's to health, happiness and, why not?, continued survival to you and your loved ones in the coming year! What in the great scheme of things could make 2016 happier?

2014 Index:
Dec. 10-3.16   Dec. 15-3.47   Dec. 20-3.52   Dec. 25-4.01

2015 Index:
Dec. 10-3.68   Dec. 15-4.1  Dec. 20-4.14   Dec. 31-4.13

Slowest start since the Christmas Spirit Index recordkeeping began (2010). But it's climbing now. Gallup says people plan to spend more on Christmas gifts this year than any year since 2007.

Sammy spent last week substituting at a bunch of middle schools, where he introduced students to the Christmas Spirit Index. It's just like the 25% of Republican poll responders who vote "Donald" no matter what he says. Twelve days before Christmas every day is "Joy to the World" to sixth graders, no matter what kind of day they're having. A correction would seem in order, soon as school lets out.

Looks like the stock market (also in the doldrums lately). The bulls have left the field, and what voting pressure there is seems mildly pessimestic. But the market tends to rise at year-end (for a blizzard of technical reasons that owe more to drinking and partying than to sound financial planning, and the closer Christmas gets, the better most people start feeling. Expect a small rally, unless of course everyone is too busy making merry to vote.

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