What does one name a history of the New Year? Provided, of course, that one does not want to call it Auld Lang Syne, the title that springs most readily to mind and is just as readily discarded as too trite? Just as when I began working on a book about the seasons and determined not to call it A Time for Every Purpose, or To Everything There Is a Season, or any other snippet of the text from Ecclesiastes, I don’t want to title a work on the New Year the most obvious thing on the face of the earth.
In 2015 I was co-author of a small book on the history of the town where I work. There were three authors on that project, and I am now working with one of them to write a book on the history of the New Year, which is a richer and more layered subject than many may realize.
My part of the book is the ancient history and the controversial transition from celebrating the New Year in spring, as it was done from the Stone Age forward, to January 1, which was an innovation of Julius Caesar, later to receive the approval of the Catholic Church. Deborah, my co-author, is researching the huge variety of traditional observances and practices which inform modern celebrations throughout the world.
But we have been stymied up to this point in coming up with a name that we like, that evokes the totality of what we mean to accomplish with the book. This week we were reading quotes about the New Year, and there are some really good ones. Perhaps my favorite comes from American journalist Bill Vaughn, who said, ‘An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.’ I am also fond of Oprah’s famous quote, that the New Year is ‘another chance to get it right.’ But how do you make that into a title? And not get sued by Harpo Productions?
I thought for a while that the title might be something having to do with Janus, the god with two faces who gives his name to the month January. But I can’t think of what the title would be, not to mention that a main thesis of the book is that celebrating the New Year in January is a mistake for a number of reasons, and that worship of Janus was one of the likeliest reasons that Caesar set his year to begin on January 1.
So here I am, throwing it open to suggestions. What would you name a book on the history of the New Year?