Many Celticly minded people think of Samhain as the turning point from old year to new, which can make this Roman Kalends Januarious (How do you spell that, anyway?) business seem a bit like someone else’s tradition. Of course there are all the community reasons to get involved, just the same as Christmas. All the same pressures to feel like a spoilsport and party pooper if you don’t want to celebrate an entirely arbitrary and human change in the numbering system by drinking yourself into a stupor.
I’ve had some happy enough New Year’s Eve nights, merry and staggering across the date line. I’ve been to some painful parties where the forced jollity and thou-must –play-silly-games really got on my nerves. I’ve had quiet evenings with friends, and a bottle to very good effect. Last year I discovered that if I went to bed at the usual time I could start the New Year sans hangover, and no one actually minded. Apparently I’m now old enough that people don’t care if I confess to being too dull to party.
The other great tradition is of course the New Year’s resolution, in which people make declarations of intent that they have no hope of sticking to. Often these are less about aspiration and more about beating ourselves up for perceived inadequacies. The words ‘gym’ and ‘diet’ haunting many people’s shift into the fresh calendar year. I gave that one up a long time ago. I make light-hearted resolutions, if I bother at all. (This year is, have more fun, and be tremendously successful.)
So where does all this seasonal stuff leave a druid? Plenty of druid folk no doubt did stay up to toast the rolling on of the numbers. Even though what we’re counting is years from the supposed birth date of Christ. But it’s a good excuse to party, and most pagans don’t need much excuse at all. It’s another opportunity for excess, in case you didn’t get enough of that in during the Christmas bit. And then we all throw out our trees, our bags and bags of post-party detritus go to landfill and we shuffle grimly through January. The amount we waste and throw away at this time of year, makes me want to weep. But it’s all in the name of good fun, and it’s mean of me to say that people shouldn’t have a good time, right?
We’ve had decades of a party we couldn’t afford, shoving our consequent waste mountains into holes in the ground and hoping someone else will deal with it. How many hung over people this morning will be regretting last night? Who is feeling a bit sick now, a bit soiled? Who had to make another resolution to eat a bit less, do a bit more exercise? The partying that is daily life helps us drown out reality. Pile in the easy calories, the booze, the brain free entertainments. If you find yourself thinking at all, grab another beer, it’ll be fine. Keep running, keep buying, keep consuming. Whatever you do, don’t sober up emotionally because when you do, the mother of all psychological hangovers will be waiting. Culturally, this is what we do, all the time.
Being a druid on New Year’s day means not tuning out the vision of the many loaded bin bags outside houses. It means not pretending that it’s fine to do exactly what I want when I feel like it. Parties are good. I love parties, I love to drink and dance, laugh and make merry. Taken too far, it can turn into something that leaves you sick and hollow. If there is no soul in it, no human connection, no warmth, then no amount of excess can compensate. And so many people push after greater levels of excess to blot out that awareness of being hollow. Are we having a good time yet?
It’s not how much a person drinks that makes them happy. It’s not the price tag on the party dress, the exclusiveness of the venue or whether you pulled someone glamorous. If you don’t care about yourself, or the people you are with, none of that counts for much the morning after. Drunk or sober, a real friend is a joy. Cheap or pricey, a thing you care about enough to invest a bit of soul in, has immeasurable worth. A druid at New Year might be at the party, or might be in a wood – it doesn’t matter. It’s all about following your heart, acting with integrity, living fully in the moment. It’s not about going along with convention just for the sake of it, acting without thinking, or using chemical props to hide the inner darkness. Embrace the inner darkness, be at ease with the doubts and fears, and go to the party anyway, or walk beneath the stars, or both. It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.