The people of England and its North American colonies crawled into their beds on the night of Wednesday, September 2, 1752, and a few hours later rubbed the sleep from their eyes on the morning of Thursday, September 14. This was progress. After 170 years of staunch resistance, fearful that the Gregorian calendar was an insidious Catholic plot designed to weaken the morals and faith of the enlightened its Protestant citizens, the United Kingdom finally adopted the “New Style,” bringing it into sync with most European countries. The Gregorian calendar did a better job of keeping the calendar aligned with the seasons than the “Old Style” Julian calendar. Sadly, in the headlong rush to keep up with their European neighbors, the Brits also moved New Year’s Day from March 25th to January 1st.
As days go, March 25th is often less than splendid, but it comes at a time when splendid days are only days away. January 1st is not always miserably inclement, but in these latitudes an endless string of miserable days is only days away when December gives way to January.
The start of a new year is supposed to be a time of self-examination and the jettisoning of bad habits. And there is supposed to be hope for the future. But north of the Mason and Dixon line, the days of January are short, dreary, cold and overcast. They are neither hopeful nor inspiring. A man must sin with gusto if he hopes to stay warm in the face of an Alberta Clipper. And those short days would last forever if he didn’t have a slew of bad habits to help him pass the time.
March 25th, on the other hand, comes at a time of hope. The trees are beginning to bud, the crocuses and daffodils – shyly and with trepidation – are sprouting, the birds are singing as the sun rises, and the sun is rising earlier and staying up later. Winter hasn’t quit, but it is on its last legs and will soon give way to spring. Better days are coming, everyone knows it, and men and women, and boys and girls everywhere are frolicsome, optimistic and ready to get on with whatever needs to be gotten on with.
The foolishness of the January New Year became painfully obvious in the first days of 2012. On the last day of 2011, Nancy and I spent the afternoon in Dahlonega, Georgia. Nestled in the mountains, Dahlonega, which is the Cherokee word for gold, owes its existence to the discovery of gold in 1828. Besides being at the center of the ensuing gold rush, Dahlonega became the site of a United States mint, which ceased operation in 1861 when Georgia seceded. The phrase “There’s gold in them thar’ hills,” was first uttered during the Dahlonega gold rush.
It’s a pleasant, touristy town these days, with several unpretentious but very good locally owned restaurants and a horde of shops brimming with antiques and knick-knacks. Nancy and I visited two of those shops before I decided that my luck would soon run out and I was bound to cause havoc with my wheelchair if I went in one more. So, when Nancy browsed, I sat outside and enjoyed the warm, sunny afternoon. We started our trek home the next day, an overcast and sometimes rainy New Year’s Day, making it as far as the northern suburbs of Cincinnati.
Around six the following morning, Nancy peeked out the window of the motel room and gazed upon the snow-covered parking lot. There wasn’t a lot of snow, no more than an inch, but the temperature was somewhere around seventeen and the wind made it feel much colder. The proof that January is the most inauspicious time to start a new year continued to accumulate as we headed up I-71, and dozens of motorists spent the second day of the year waiting for a tow truck to get their cars out of the median. And they were the fortunate unfortunates. Scores of other motorists bumped into one another and were waiting for a tow to the nearest body shop.
That is no way to start a year. And things will only get worse before they get better. Whiteouts, blizzards, raging winds, arctic temperatures and panicked weathermen will be the salient features of the next three months. Even the most zealous tree huggers will be asking, “Where’s global warming when we need it?”
England’s George II deserves his due. He was the last British sovereign to go into battle with his army. How many useless wars would never have been fought if heads of state were expected to endure the rigors and dangers of armed conflict? But the man was on the throne when the British government moved New Year’s Day from early spring, a time of rebirth and rejuvenation, to the dead of winter. George might have been brave and noble, but when it came to New Year’s Day he would have been well advised to remember, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”