Celebrating New Year’s is a complicated thing in Israel. After all, we already celebrated the start of the new year in September at Rosh Hashanah. However, while the cycle of the year in Israel follows the Jewish calendar, everyday life follows the Gregorian calendar. When you make an appointment, no one says “How about the 7th of Sh’vat?” but rather “How about January 8th?”
So why is New Year’s complicated? The question that seems to pop up every year for Israelis is To Celebrate or Not To Celebrate? For some it doesn’t feel right to celebrate because we already celebrated at Rosh Hashanah. For others, there are religious connections to this holiday that make them hesitant about participating in any festivities. In Israel, a lot of people refer to New Year’s as Sylvester since New Year’s Eve is also known as Saint Sylvester’s Day. Saint Sylvester’s day is a feast day honoring Pope Sylvester I. Rumor has it that Pope Sylvester wasn’t exactly friendly to the Jews, but an article I read indicates that there is no evidence of that. I hadn’t heard of Sylvester’s Day until today, but I had heard that there are religious underpinnings to New Year’s. If Jesus was born on December 25th*, then January 1st would be his bris or circumcision. In the article I read, historians claim that this idea was added by the Church to give this secular holiday religious meaning. According to these historians, the Romans started the year in January, and the world has adopted their calendar. So New Year’s is in January.
No matter what the reason, New Year’s is just not part of the culture here in Israel. Some people do have small parties celebrating, but there isn’t anything really happening at hotels and restaurants. Today, December 31st was a work day. Tomorrow, January 1st is a work day. It is hard to stay up late to bring in the New Year when you have to go about your business as usual the next day. To be honest, I had to keep reminding myself that it was New Year’s Eve tonight. It feels like a typical work week, so it was easy to forget what the date is.
Are we celebrating? Sort of. If it was left up to us, we probably wouldn’t. I don’t really have an opinion on whether or not it is wrong to celebrate, but I do know that I no longer have the drive to stay up to midnight voluntarily. After years of sleep deprivation due to working and going to grad school at the same time, staying up to midnight is not something special anymore. Plus, with a 4 month old who might be up ready to play at 6 am, going to bed when she goes to bed is a good idea. I think New Year’s is more fun when you are little and staying up that late is such a novelty. I can stay up this late any time I want to, and to be honest I don’t want to anymore. I’m tired by 10:30 pm, which is just about now. Plus, the ball won’t be dropping for 7 hours after it is 2014 here, so what exactly would I be staying up for?
We did do a little something, however. Friends of ours who made aliyah from the US about the same time that we came to Israel decided to have a party at their place. The party was set from 9 pm – 1 am, and so we asked if we could come early and leave early. We got to their place a little after 8 and hung out until around 9:30 when Adina started to meltdown. We got her home and ready for bed, so as I type this, she is sleeping in her crib. We had a nice time hanging out with our friends and while it would have been fun to have stayed longer, we plan to get together with them to catch up on life in the near future. In addition, tomorrow morning we may SKYPE in to a party in West Hartford that our friends are hosting. We did this last year and it was fun to see everyone celebrating. It will be 7 am here, which is a normal time for us to be awake.
Any resolutions? Not really. I tend to make my resolutions at Rosh Hashanah. I take the whole Day of Judgement, Book of Life thing pretty seriously, so I feel like I have already done my personal reflection. That doesn’t mean that the New Year isn’t special to me, however. 2014 is going to be an interesting year for us. Our time in Israel is starting to dwindle, and so soon we will be figuring out the details of our next adventure. Where will Adam work, where will we live, where will I get a job? Plus, while we are working on necessary plans for our return to the US, we will be working hard to make the most of our remaining time here. It will be a busy time for us, but it will be an experience that will be with us for all time.
Wishing everyone a Happy and healthy 2014!
Until next time…
* In a class I took on science and the bible, we learned that Jesus was actually born in the Spring, but his birth could only be celebrated in December because of religious persecution by the Romans. I found this extremely fascinating!