In a city like New York, it’s common enough to hear people wishing each other “Happy New Year” this week.
If your name ends in -witz, -stein, -berg, or other such suffixes, you might have people wishing you “Happy New Year” even if you aren’t Jewish. If you’re a doctor or accountant, chalk it up to an occupational hazard. It can still be considered a geographical hazard in a major city, or a marital hazard if you adopted another’s name.
This is the week of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year (literally “Head of the Year”), but even that can be considered a misnomer. There are actually four Jewish New Years.
The most widely known and celebrated is this fall holiday marking the start of the civil year. It’s a big one, but it technically is in the seventh month of the calendar; the head of the year is not the start of the calendar year. And you wonder why so many Jews become lawyers.
Another new year starts two weeks before the Passover holiday (around Easter) as the spring redemption holiday. This one is the start of the calendar year. Redemption comes first; repentance comes later.
There’s also a new year for trees that falls around the middle of the Northern Hemisphere’s winter. Finally, the least-known falls a month before Rosh Hashanah and is the new year for animal tithes; I never had to tithe my guppies or hamsters, so I had to look up what that was all about.
Even if practicing Jews might celebrate Rosh Hashanah and not think much about the others, it’s a treat to have an extra new year or two on the calendar. For Jews, that might entail celebrating a few days as new year holidays, such as Rosh Hashanah and Passover, but potentially also January 1 and one’s birthday.
But of course, this doesn’t need to be a Jewish thing. Other holidays could feel enough like a new year depending on how they’re celebrated, such as Eid, Easter, or Holi.
There doesn’t need to be a religious component. Americans, for instance, might include days like July 4, Labor Day (with its back-to-work and back-to-school themes), or Thanksgiving in the mix. The first day of spring could be a good one for those who prefer to keep it secular and need a bonus new year in the first half of the year.
When I was talking to some people last week who were going through a rough patch, I said to them, “A new year is coming.” It didn’t matter if they were Jewish, and I wasn’t seeking converts. It was just a good excuse for them to give themselves a clean slate, take a breath, step back from everything that was consuming them day-to-day, and start fresh. If they could get a three- or four-day weekend in the process, all the better, but even a day of disconnection and reflection over the weekend would do them some good with the idea that when they got moving again, it would be a new year.
Most everyone is dealing with something in their lives personally or professionally, mentally or physically, intellectually or spiritually, objectively or subjectively where we can use an extra new year. Maybe we can learn from some of our ancestors and put extra new years on the calendar.
Treat an existing holiday as a new year, or come up with a new one. Maybe pick the birthday of your first relative or ancestor who immigrated to your country. Pick March 14 if you’re a math wonk, or pick May 4 if your vehicle made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. Pick anything.
It’s a new year, at least for millions of people this week. To any such people reading this, Happy New Year. To anyone who’s adopting this week as a bonus new year, Happy New Year to you too. And if this isn’t a new year for you but you’re picking another day or week for such an occasion, let me know, and I’ll greet you then accordingly.
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