As I've thought virtually every year-end in recent memory, I am intrigued by the notion of New Year's Day being a major holiday. I grasp that it has traditions, and it carries the association of optimism or rebirth, but January 1 is ultimately arbitrary. It's not like the Chinese new year, which aligns with the lunar new year; there's no astronomical event to coincide with the day in Western culture on which the year starts. And of course, it's due to Pope Gregory XIII that it's not in March any more.
Now, to be clear: By no means do I mind having the day off. All I'm saying is that when push comes to shove (as inevitably it will on New Year's Eve), what is being celebrated is that the digits on the calendar are changing. Woo-hoo! It has a 9 at the end rather than an 8! Let's have a parade! Give everyone the day off, because they haven't had one since last week!
Every other holiday is at least about something. It may not be much of something, but there's something—religious observations, historical events or figures, rodents who ostensibly predict the weather. New Year's Day is about only that—it's the first day of the year, which by relative standards is still considered by most to be "new" at that point. So it's certainly an accurately named occasion. But why is it a major holiday? Say all you will about the hope of renewal and it being a good excuse to resolve to better one's self, but let's face facts: it's because we get the day off.
Not only do we get that day off from work, but for many, we get off work early on the day before. It has become expected that office employees need extra time to prepare for getting blitzed out of their minds; leaving work at the usual time would be insufficient.
But while we're on the topic of New Year's Eve, along with Christmas Eve a week before, it's one of the two days a year when we don't have the day off but get off early. And as anyone who goes into work on December 31 can attest, we're probably not getting a lot accomplished before we get to head out from the office, so it's a rather pointless reason to even go in at all.
Therefore, we need to get another day off.
Analyzing this, the obvious conclusion is that we only get full days off if "eve" is not in the name. Thus, if we get the name "New Year's Eve" changed, perhaps we can get it declared a full-fledged holiday on its own, and hence a full day off work.
I suggest "Old Year's Day"—and I'll concede up front that it lacks panache, but what are we celebrating? It's the last day of the "old" year (by the same relative standard than makes the next day "new"). It's not having a catchy name that results in a holiday (as we've already determined, it's not like "New Year's Day" was all that inspired); it's the lack of "eve"—and that much is accomplished in the name.
So on this last day of 2008, allow me to wish all my readers (likely for the first time) a Happy Old Year's Day.
It has to start somewhere. This could work if we spread the word, people. If you know anyone with some pull in the matter (even the Pope if you have that in your contact—historically, that position has proven to have some influence in holidays pertaining to the calendar), please forward a link. Everyone will be grateful when we all have Old Year's Day off.
Of course, then everyone will start partying on Old Year's Eve, and employees will start expecting to get off early then as well, and then we'll need to concoct a non-eve name for it, but we'll cross that bridge when the ball drops on it.