Jan. 1.


January 1st, 2020

Silvester and the Grinch


“Same Procedure as Every Year, James!”

Is it just me or is it ironic to talk about New Year traditions? If it’s about newness, a fresh start, then why do we do things as we’ve always done them? People are fond of their holiday traditions, here as much as in the U.S. In Germany, New Year’s Eve is called Silvester. Lothar was not much surprised to see the long line-ups at the bakery, everyone coming for their orders of Pfannkuchen (a kind of donut). These are gobbled by the dozen at or around midnight, followed by, of course, fireworks.

In my usual humbug way I was nestled peacefully in bed by the time all the hoopla started. With the metal shutters closed over the windows it felt like we were in a bunker in war time, but I was too comfortable in the warm bed to get up and have a look at all the rockets going off. In the morning I found one of these wooden stakes had been planted in our garden just a few feet from our front door. A sign of aggression? or friendly festivity? An adult mind was evident in the way the stake was carefully angled, to aim the rocket at the clearest space, away from the tall hedge. It’s true that a clear firing space is limited in this jumble of old houses in the center of town, and the cobblestone streets give no place to plant the stakes.  Still it was so odd to see this total disregard for property and privacy, usually so carefully guarded here. But then maybe that’s the point.

Our neighbors go back to the requirements of neatness and order the very next day, sweeping up the spent cartridges and paper rolls. There are friendly greetings: “Morgen!” “Frohes Neues Jahr” I forget about the firecracker incursion on my long walk in the woods and fields around town, encountering more warm greetings from people out for a stroll.

Frohes Neues Jahr. Happy New Year. It’s supposed to be out with the old, in with the new, yet we have these little traditions we carry on? One of these is a short film called #Dinner For One. It’s as British as you can get, but dear to the heart of generations of Germans. Ms. Sophie, turning 90, is served dinner by her faithful and forbearing butler, James. Around the table are the empty chairs of her departed friends/suitors. James has the job of serving wine at every course and playing the part of each of the guests, raising a toast to Ms. Sophie.

With each course, his service around the table becomes more and more precarious. It’s funny, maybe a little sad, but mainly it’s familiar, predictable. We know exactly when he’ll splash wine on the table, when he’ll trip over the tiger skin on the floor, when he’ll take the part of Sir Toby, Admiral von Schneider, Mr. Pomeroy, Mr. Winterbottom. With each course served and his rounding of the table he asks Ms. Sophie (in a progressively more garbled voice) “Same procedure as last year, Ms. Sophie?” and she answers, calmly and a little sternly “Same procedure as every year, James!”

So the plot goes on. There is motion, there is progress, but it is circular and contained. Is that what we want from the progression of years? I am reading too much into it. Still, I’ve never been one for New Year’s. Every day is a new year compared to this day 12 months ago or even yesterday.

Lothar gives the rebuttal:

Genau so wie jedes Jahr.  (Same as every year.)

Well, yes, of course it is the same procedure as every year. A tree grows and sends out new branches every year and it will change the way it looks from the year before. The roots are still there, the trunk is there and the fruit remains. Perhaps it is what we consider tradition. Tradition does not need to change to go forward with your life. I would even go as far as to say that without tradition we could not move forward. How would we compare the changes without a base? Besides, Christmas is a time for reflection, for peace and for joy. Forget about the religious aspect of it. There should be a time every year to do so.

Winter is the time a farmer was able to reflect on the year’s work.  Same goes for New Years. So we start thinking about the new year. We make plans, make ourselves promises. We truly mean all of those things. More importantly, at least once a year we have hope, we look forward get our head out of the dredge that is our usual life. Is that so bad? Besides, maybe, just maybe some of the things will actually happen.

Frohes Neues Jahr

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