Waiting For Janus
It’s been years since I celebrated New Year’s Eve. When Rob and I were younger, friends often threw elaborate parties. We’d get dressed up, drop off Madelaine at my mom’s house, and dance the night away until well after the ball dropped in Times Square.
As our friends had kids, got married, divorced, or discovered less hangover-inducing ways to celebrate the arrival of the New Year, the parties eventually stopped, and Rob and I began spending the night at home. I’ve never really minded it. Although I sometimes miss going to parties, there’s a lot to be said for sipping Champagne in your pajamas.
Last New Year’s Eve, I spent most of the night helping Madelaine edit the essay she wrote for her graduate school application, which was due the next day. We went to bed hours before the clock struck midnight.
Although it started off pretty well, 2020 turned out to be the worst year in most people’s memory. And while there have been occasional bright spots, I count myself among them.
In addition to being isolated from our loved ones for months on end, being furloughed from my job for more than half the year, and Madelaine having to forgo her college graduation, all three of us came down with COVID-19 in June. In August, Madelaine’s graduate program adopted an online-only format, preventing her from getting the in-person student teaching experience she needs. Then, in September, my mother died. Perhaps worst of all, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented us from seeing her for most of the last five months of her life.
Even though no one can host a party this year, I’ve already decided that I’m celebrating New Year’s Eve. Hoping to solidify my bet that 2021 will be an improvement over 2020, I did some research to find out what people from different cultures have done on New Year’s to ensure good fortune.
In Brazil, it’s bad luck to eat chicken on New Year’s Eve because chickens scratch backward, and going backward is, of course, not what anyone wants to do in a new year, especially not now. Instead, Brazilians eat foods that move forward, like fish, hoping that doing so will help them move forward as well.
In Turkey, red is the color of health, so it’s traditional to wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve, or give red underwear as a gift to someone you care about. It’s also a good idea in Turkey to wear new clothes on New Year’s Eve, preferably items you haven’t worn before, as this will help to ensure new beginnings in the year to come.
One of the most satisfying-sounding New Year’s Eve traditions I found comes from Armenia. At the stroke of midnight, Armenians throw a pomegranate onto the floor as hard as they can to open it. The more pieces the fruit breaks into and the farther the seeds spread across the room, the better luck the new year will bring.
The Roman god Janus, for whom the month of January is named, has two faces, one looking forward into the future and the other facing backward, its eyes on the past. Janus is the god of gates and doors, the guardian of time who presides over every beginning, ending and transition. He rules the gray areas between darkness and light, life and death, good fortune and bad. Janus was especially important to the Romans at weddings, births, funerals and at times of hoped-for change, such as during war, outbreaks of disease, and on New Year’s Day.
The Romans believed the beginning of anything had the potential to be a harbinger of its future, making the first day of the first month of the year especially critical. On New Year’s Day, it was imperative to be helpful and friendly to your neighbors, especially those you might have had disagreements with in the past year. People exchanged treats made with honey to ensure sweetness in the months to come, as well as coins bearing Janus’ two faces. The latter was a reminder, I think, that no matter what we do, it’s he who will always have the last word.
I’ve got our salmon dinner planned, a new outfit (complete with red knickers) washed and ironed, and I’m ready to throw the biggest pomegranate I could find. All I need to do now is wait for Janus. I’m counting down the days.