A New Year

I left my site to stew through the waning of 2015 with something of a dramatic post at its head; this was partially on purpose, certainly, to emphasize the dramatic stance I took, but it was slightly because I was (like you were as well, I imagine) busy with family and friends and taking a general break from things. And now, life goes on again. It’s a new year! What does that mean for you?

I can tell you that in ancient European cultures (my favorite), the new year didn’t seriously start until winter started to melt away. It’s kind of funny that the year ends in the middle of a season, but who am I to argue with the established calendar? Okay, don’t answer that; my wife will tell you that I follow the good old tradition of men in that I can be muleishly stubborn and argue just about anything.

But with the date/calendar aside, a new year can mean several things. For some countries, it means the end of the tax year (public servants scrambling backwards and forwards and poring through data for hours on end). For others, it simply marks a time of massive sales (salespeople scrambling backwards and forwards and poring through data for hours on end). Some people recognize the new year as a sacred tradition stemming back from books and oral traditions as far back as the beginning of history itself. Others like to drink but haven’t got a clue what the fuss is about if they aren’t holding a bottle. A lot of people take down their old calendars and put up new ones. Some people make new year resolutions. A few keep them.

So what does the new year mean to you?

I personally like to think of the new year as a time to celebrate the coldest winter days (also the shortest days of light) of the year where candles and fires were lit and feasts were made and stories were told while people celebrated yuletide, which was a twelve-day celebration marking and celebrating the passing of the thickest stage of winter. I’m old-fashioned and somewhat romantic that way. The irony, though, is that I presently live in Australia. In other words, the new year marks the longest and hottest days of the year and there are usually total fire bans. It’s funny living in Australia when you’ve got British/Norse blood.

Late-December Shopping

You guessed it – Christmas shopping. Now, I’m aware that Christmas shopping can start several months earlier than December (the biggest shops swap over to Christmas things about a week after Easter finishes), but we tend to procrastinate and postpone and forget and become generally too busy to go Christmas shopping until December 15 – December 24. Two pitfalls of doing this are as follows: rushing and subliminal confusion. We think “oh, I won’t have another chance to buy something, so I’ll just get it now even though it isn’t on sale”. We spend top dollar for things that – while perhaps thoughtful – are actually worth significantly less. “A stormtrooper doll-thing? Hmm, the new Star Wars movie is coming out… and I can’t think of another gift for him… yep, it’ll have to do.” This kind of rushed purchasing is direct, it’s guilt-ridden, it’s painful. It’s very nearly masochistic. Subliminal confusion, on the other hand, is all on the heads of the chaps in marketing. They do a very very good job at this time of year (and ever since Easter), and probably get paid very well to do so. They’ve wrapped hampers that look stunning, they’ve combined things we never knew could possibly be combined in shops (but always wished they were), they’ve painted entire buildings with hints and suggestions and ideas. Our minds have taken in all the colors, smells, sounds, and textures that they’ve slipped into our lives over the past six or more months, and now that the word “Christmas” is becoming a solid and current event, all the marketing we’ve experienced since the beginning starts to niggle its way back into our minds. We simply have to have Christmas pudding. We couldn’t live without stockings, or wrapped presents, or holly, or wreaths. Tinsel. Baubles. Lights. Candy canes. Trees. (I’d love to go on a tangent about how plastic trees are a mockery of the original pagan rites, but that’s another topic in and of itself.)

But yep, Christmas shopping. A tip for the unwary: don’t choose in a hurry; don’t choose based on whim or marketing. Choose what you choose because you know the gift(s) will be used/useful or because the gift(s) will mean something real to the recipient. As for me, well… as I said, those marketing people really know their stuff. I try to hold my own, but sometimes I’m a whimsical buyer too. I’m working on it.