(Facebook post by Robert Cairns. I'm too lazy to write anything of my own right now but I figured this esse is similar to what I'd write anyway)
Considering all of the miseries that occurred throughout the world over the course of just one year, it is difficult to understand why the prospect of another year is actually worth celebrating. Who celebrates the spinning of Ixion's wheel, or rejoices at the news that the painful and pointless boulder-pushing of Sisyphus must continue? Surely these are reasons to mourn and not celebrate? To make matters worse, if we try and think beyond what William Faulkner called our propensity for "clock time", then there is no real boundary that marks a 'year' anyway, as life would be continuing regardless of our domestication of time.
If clock time is kept out of the equation, then to celebrate the arrival of a new year is merely to celebrate the continuation of life. This seems strange when we consider how we usually only celebrate things that are good, or celebrate people that we respect and consider worth celebrating, and it is hard to believe that anyone truly thinks that life - taken as a whole - is actually very good at all. It is, at the very least, extremely dangerous. If life were a person, we might celebrate this person out of fear, seeing as how they would be the source of all pain, suffering, crime, and humiliation in the universe. Perhaps this person would also give us some bread once in a while, or an afternoon of comfort, but the nature of our relationship with them would be based on the avoidance of dissatisfaction and all the horrific cruelties we know they can mete out. In short, we might pander to life in the way a slave might pander to his or her master.
If we are not celebrating life itself when we celebrate the arrival of a new year, then what are we celebrating? Are we instead celebrating the departure of the old year? I've been told that some Japanese people call their new year parties "bon enkai", which means "forgetting-the-year parties". Perhaps the reason many of us celebrate a new year is because the artificial boundary of "clock time" allows for the idea of a 'new start', which is accompanied by various hopes, thoughts, and projects. But this can never really be a new start either, because what precedes the category of the 'new year' does not disappear upon the arrival of the 'new year'! If someone loses a limb on what we have all agreed to call 'December the 22nd', the limb is still not there on what we have all agreed to call 'January the 1st'!
Maybe we should mourn on occasions like these, in solidarity with one another, in the same way people shared campfire stories after hard travels and wars. But if we are just marking an occasion that announces our hope for things to get better, then this would make the wish for people to "have a happy New Year" similar to wishing someone luck before they roll the ball on the roulette wheel in a casino.
Best of luck to you all - but the house always wins!