Sunday, December 31, 2006

Nature's Holiday

New Year's Day holds a unique honor in American culture, as the only holiday celebrated both in the human and the natural worlds. It is the one time a year we acknowledge that the world turns around us, and not vice versa, where we celebrate the fact that despite our technological and political power, we are yet yoked to the stately dance of the heavens.

Think about it. In ancient times people celebrated events like the first day of winter, the summer solstice, the new moon, the coming of spring, events tied not to a human calendar but to the schedule written upon the very earth itself. Nature records the turning of the years in tree rings and coral growths, in layers of sediment and annual floods. You'll find nothing there about St. Valentine's martyrdom, or the commemoration of our war veterans, or even the birth of the founder of the largest religion on earth; only the steady, measured turning of year over year over year.

And yet, our modern culture largely ignores those deeper rhythms, those core markers on our trek around the galaxy. We march to ephemeral beats like the founding of a nation, or the birth of a president, or the landing of Pilgrims on these shores.

Except on New Year's Day.

On this holiday, unlike any other we officially designate, our nation celebrates something based on nature's clock rather than our own. It is our one chance to stare collectively at the awesome sweep of Deep Time, and I am glad we are here to witness it.

Have a happy new year.

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