As a writer I have a relentless preoccupation with Time, and even more so, with the eschatological. I am equally fascinated with the origins and beginnings of things. But this is something that is human in character, as we have inherited this fixation from ancestral or primitive man.
As one year dies and another is born, modern man has retained the vestiges of the rituals of our ancestors, for whom, as Mircea Eliade has it in The Sacred and the Profane, “the world is renewed annually; in other words, with each new year it recovers its original sanctity.” For humans in the most archaic cultures, the cosmos was reborn at the start of each new year, “starting time over again at its beginning, that is, restoration of the primordial time, the ‘pure’ time, that existed at the moment of Creation.” The eschatological comes into play here because for a new year to be born, the old must die, and this was done through rituals that signified “the end of the world,” wherein ancient man participated in acts of social liberation and sexual license; these rituals symbolized the dissolution of Time and Creation back into chaos, back to a period before the order and structure put in place through Creation. At the same time that the old year died and the new was born, ushering in the re-sacralization of both Time and Creation, man himself was born again, experiencing a sense of renewal, a return to the powers of regeneration that Nature exhibits. In the ritual acts that metaphorically dissolve the old year and from that chaos bring about a new one, there is a sense of healing of which Eliade also speaks. For Eliade, all acts that re-sanctify the world and all therein endeavor to bring man closer to the gods, to the divinity in pure being. “It is at once thirst for the sacred and nostalgia for being.”
For nonreligious man, as Eliade denotes modern man, most of this reality, this renewable sacred experience, is lost, but traces remain. The fragments may be buried beneath the layers of geological time, but the roots of our connection, our oneness, with ancestral humanity and by extension the gods, have not been cut out; they lie deep within our unconscious, passed down to us throughout historical time, which has ultimately replaced the sacred, with which our primitive forebears were vitally in tune.
Hence the modern rituals with which we say good-bye to the dying year and welcome in the new; our New Year’s Eve celebrations symbolically enact the death of the old year while simultaneously giving birth to the new. We temporarily suspend the historical time in which we live and return to the first time, the time of Creation, as Eliade explains. In doing so, we let go of the past, of time worn down, we engage in acts of social pleasure and freedom, and we put our hopes for a better life to the forefront of our thoughts and actions, at least for a moment.
In counting down to the New Year we force Time to metaphorically expire and start again from nothing. For we continuously wish to begin again, to be regenerated and become one with the holy, the sacred, that lies at the heart of our being, for it is being itself that is eternal and divine, thus sacred and holy. In stopping Time at midnight and watching it tick on again we wish to arrest our movement as individuals and a species toward the future to reassess and reinvent, to reflect and renew ourselves, to return to the sacred. This is why the New Year is always a period of joy and sorrow, of celebration and contemplation, of hope and letting go, because it is in letting go alone that we can begin again, find our way back to the sacred. As Jesus said, “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” We celebrate the end of an old year and the birth of a new, remaking Time and the world itself, because we are called by the ancestral echoes in the collective unconscious to return to the sacred, to being, the origin and soul of all life, and to put off and forget all that prevents us from realizing and actualizing that sacred being, our true form and essence.