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Into the new millennium's first Leap Year

by Anton J.Jesuthasan (Sajj)

New Year's day and New Year's Eve are a time of reflection, revelry, resolutions, recrimination, reconciliation, and much hope. This New Year's Eve is again all of these, in somewhat larger measure. We shall also have an extra day in 2004, to enjoy, or endure!

Janus, the Greek God with two heads, after whom the month of January was named, is said to look behind with one, to reflect on the year gone past, and look forward with the other, to see what lies ahead in the coming year.

The world has seen much turmoil this year, the war in Iraq for one. Sri Lanka has endured much anxiety besides, what with the uncertainty at every session of the peace talks, and with the final stalling thereof.

So what have we to celebrate?

If the world has a reason to celebrate, it is perhaps that things did not get far worse. If Sri Lanka celebrates, it is that we have, so far this year, kept war at bay, despite many near mishaps and risks - itself no mean an achievement.

We also have reason to celebrate knowing that the rest of the world cares so much for us, as witnessed by the unprecedented rallying of the world's greatest nations to help rebuild our country ravaged over two decades by a needless war - providing of course that we put our house in order first!

On a different and lighter vein, our national cricketers have also given us added cause to celebrate, with their victory over England in the recent Test series.

New Year is said to be one of the oldest holidays in the world, celebrated from as long ago as 2000 years B.C.

The revelries on New Year's Eve largely celebrate the achievements of the year past, anticipating all good things to come in the year ahead. For many, however, it is just an occasion or excuse to celebrate, regardless.

The great civilizations and traditions of the world celebrate New Year on different days of the year, based on their lunar, solar or other calendars, and in different ways.

Our Sinhala and Tamil New Year is in April, although, following the West and the Gregorian calendar so named after Pope Gregory XIII, we celebrate the first of January with as much verve and vigour as does the West.

The Muslim New Year falls on different dates, year to year. The Jewish New Year is between September and October. The Chinese New Year again is not the first of January, it falls on a day between mid- January and mid- February, the actual date varying with the date of the New Moon.

The New Year is a great occasion in the lives of the Chinese, and their celebrations extend well into a fortnight, beginning with a family re-union dinner on New Year's Eve at the patriarch's home, where three to four generations of the family usually gather, the following days hosting lavish open-house hospitality to family and friends, in many an individual's home.

The Japanese New Year is the first of January, as in the West. Our revelries mostly follow that of the West, which include singing and dancing and late-night merry-making, to ring in the New Year with that old, traditional 'Auld Lang Syne', meaning 'old long since' or 'days gone by'. Children keep awake late into midnight, to light crackers and to receive and exchange gifts.

In the Christian world, midnight church services take place, to invoke God's blessings in the coming year. Churches get filled to more than capacity.

In London's Trafalgar Square, people make merry, some plunging themselves under fountains in their 'birthday suits', or streaking across streets, light in their heads that are heavy with the season's spirits!

In New York's Times Square, and in other major American cities, people are out on the streets, singing and dancing and making merry, and greeting each other whether stranger or friend, as church bells ring to announce the New Year.

Some irony in all this is that for some street revellers, a few of them 'homeless', the cause for revelry is not achievement or good fortune, but failure and misery, sought to be masked with the spirits of the season!

Some beliefs and superstition also surround the celebrations.

Having the house lit bright at midnight, burning strong incense to emit dense smoke, keeping all doors and windows wide open, is believed to smoke out all evil around the house, and to draw all goodness into the homes.

The revelries are often accompanied by New Year Resolutions, which are again said to be as old as the holidays and revelries, dating to and originating from Babylonian times, some 4000 years ago.

The resolutions range from children's simple ones like to study hard, to adolescent or adult ones like to give up smoking and drinking, to more serious ones like to strive for success with honour.

Many resolutions, unfortunately, end up in the rubbish heap, broken even as they are made!

One resolution which one hopes will be made, and kept, especially at all leadership levels in the country, political, social, ethnic and economic, will be to achieve a RESOLUTION to all of Sri Lanka's ills in all these spheres, which have plagued the nation for decades now, and which at long last seem capable of resolution.

Recriminations - these abound all through the year, but more so around now, when our actions come under greater scrutiny.

It is an unfortunate human trait to look for scape-goats, Accusations and counter-accusations fly freely around, when blame for failures lie at our own door-step.

If we have failed to achieve any noble aim, let us not cry foul at someone else, let us forge forward to achieve that aim in the coming year.

Reconciliation is currently the flavour of the day, all the world over. Nelson Mandela of South Africa gave it political and social credibility not long ago, and many erstwhile trouble spots are now embracing 'reconciliation', to heal wounds and cover scars.

Nor is it a virtue inappropriate for Sri Lanka.

Lastly, but not least, New Year's Eve is a time of hope, fervent hope of better things to come.

The strongest hope that most Sri Lankans entertain this particular New Year's Eve is for the stalled, yet intact, peace process to re-start, and for a just and lasting peace to become rooted soon.

We have tasted the fruits of peace and we have known the horrors of war. We are not incapable of achieving lasting peace.

Absence of peace is to no one's advantage; it is to everyone's detriment. Let us hope that realisation dawns on us all, that the world be rid of turmoil, and that lasting peace reigns over our country this New Year on.

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