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Good reason we send the old year out with a bang

Boom, crack, bang! There goes the year, here comes another one!

What better way to mark that than by having fun with friends, family, food and fireworks? A new year’s party, yes! This after a series of parties celebrating Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, solstice, sales, football games and other holiday events.

One can get tired just running around to get to these parties. This is probably why by the holiday season, the end of the year, we surrender to mindlessly exploding firecrackers. Boom! Yeehaaa, fun!

Er, where’s the fun in seeing a $50 stick go up in bursts of light and explode in your face? I don’t know, but maybe it’s the fact that you planned it, you bought it, you yourself lit it up and you expected it to go up in smoke. And it did!

There is something primally alluring about an explosive fire that you can control, or at least think that you can control. There is, quite naturally, the danger of that firework going off while in your fingers, but that is something that happens to somebody else from far away (for this year’s New Year’s celebrations for instance, about 600 people were injured in Manila). Fire away, fire away. And when you do, it is with the hope or unquestioning faith that all your digits will remain intact.

All that sound must signify something.

In some cultures, the practice of making noise and setting off firecrackers are meant to drive bad spirits away. What better way to do it than at the close of the year? Those bad spirits are, after all, so last year. Time to shoo them away with a loud noise, time to make space for the new ones. Good spirits, hopefully, otherwise, shoo them away at the end of the year.

Life is a cycle. If we cannot get rid of the bad spirits, we can at least recycle them.

There is, of course, the need (or is it a habit or an annual urge?) to look back, take stock of the year’s mistakes and successes. They can be heavy or light. What better way to honor them than with pyrotechnic revelry?

Being unfriended by someone, unfriending someone you did not mean to unfriend, or not noticing that you got unfriended on Facebook? Phssssssssswwww! Insert that sad emoticon here, :(

Actually losing a friend? Bang! Out loud, say OUCH! Better yet, actually cry about it. Even much better, do something about it.

Meeting new friends or regaining that lost one? Bllaaaast!

Getting a promotion at work? Vaaabooom!

Then as life prefers symmetry, there’s the corresponding need (habit or annual urge) to plan for the new year. There is, at the beginning of another year, the promise of new beginnings, a renewal, a new life. It’s a great time to make plans and maybe new promises for another 365-day adventure. Hurrah!

It appears that making plans and promises as the year turns is a practice that’s as old as recorded history. The ancient Babylonians promised their gods that they’d pay their debts and return borrowed objects. How many people have actually made good their new year’s plans and promises since then?

The ancient Romans made promises to Janus. Two-faced, that god of beginnings and transitions is an interesting one. One face looks to the past, the other to the future. (He should have another one that attends to the present, but I am not an ancient Roman so I’ll leave him with his two faces.) He’s a good character for presiding over transitions, one who mandates facing both the past and the future. That is a good step for taking stock so as to make good plans and promises, but to actually keep them?

I am a denizen of the present, so I will recreate Janus with a third face for the present. This might help with actually realizing plans and keeping promises. Have Janus, or whatever god presides over personal plans and promises, with the face, brain, eyes, the complete body and spirit to work and realize those plans and promises.

Otherwise, Janus of the past and future, we can happily keep making promises and resolutions at the start of the year and just as happily preserve them as plans and promises for the next years.

He is, curiously, also the guardian of peace and war. Interesting people, those ancient Romans who put the burden of transitions, peace and war on one single deity and vowed to changed themselves, their lives, their paths to this a two-faced god.

Maybe there is some sense in having this two-, now three-faced character preside over our plans, promises and resolutions. In transitioning to the next year, we make peace with our past, we plan and promise to bring out the gods and goddesses in us to wage war and triumph our own frailties.

And we herald the start of this new war and peace with the big blast of fireworks. Brrrrraaaaak, ka-blaaaam, boooom!

Isabel de la Torre of Parkland, an environmentalist and trained but non-practicing lawyer and journalist, is one of five reader columnists whose work appears on this page. Email her at tribune@

isabeldelatorre.org.

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