September is my new New Year

25 Sep

Recently I’ve been thinking that September has replaced January 1st as my new New Year. In Southern Europe, it is a time when people are returning from their summer holidays, refreshed from their full MONTH of PAID vacation (which is so difficult for many Americans to comprehend) and ready to dive back into their day-to-day lives with new vigor, new ideas of how to approach their personal and professional challenges.

Here in Catalunya, there is a week-long, city-wide festival surrounding the holiday La Mercè on September 24 that I think of as the end-of-summer celebration, one last chance for people to enjoy the warm weather and the company of friends for another outdoor festival. So of course they have to do it right and go out with a bang, both literally and figuratively: numerous plazas around the city have free concerts going on every weekend with a huge lineup of popular artists; there are quite a few interactive art exhibits open and available to the public for free throughout the event; parades of gigantes and other displays of Catalan culture such as the castellers, two large and impressive fireworks shows to open and close the festivities, and my favorite event: Correfoc.

Correfoc literally translates to “running with fire,” and the public at large has the opportunity to join with their cohorts to literally dance with devils amongst some rather impressive yet reasonably safe firecrackers. The basic symbolism of the event is that the devils, representing the “fire” within us, are allowed to run free and make mischief for one night during Correfoc to get it out of their system so that their urge to do so is quelled for the rest of the year. And the general public gets join in with them to get this play and mischief out of their system so that they can approach their day-to-day lives without those urges to make mischief getting in the way of their ability to fulfill their responsibilities and achieve their goals, whatever those may be. It’s basically a controlled burn, to put it in terms that people familiar with forest fire management techniques might understand :)

I like that metaphor, because rather than thinking of that compulsion towards playfulness and mischief in terms of this binary good/evil as evil being this inherently bad thing that one needs to work hard to suppress, it acknowledges that each person has that compulsion that exists side-by-side with the desires to be a good, responsible person who is moving forward with their goals. And that a healthy person understands how to balance those two drives to make sure that neither one is suppressed in favor of the other. It gives us permission to let loose and have fun periodically, and puts hedonistic desires within a larger framework that American culture doesn’t seem to understand.

So as I’ve been taking advantage of these opportunities for letting my inner devil run free, in preparation for returning to my own responsibilities and pursuit of goals that are important to me, I’ve been feeling very much like this whole month has felt a bit like a New Year’s celebration. I’ve been mentally preparing myself for tackling my next challenges and responsibilities, while enjoying the last days of summer fun while I have the opportunity.

Interestingly enough, I opened up my Facebook page this morning and saw it flooded with greetings of “L’shanah tova”, I was reminded that the Jews and several other cultures also celebrate the New Year in September. And I think back to another comment a friend made to me last year in respect to Correfoc about autumn being the period of “reset” in agrarian cultures, when the fields are burned to clear any remainder of the harvest that just finished and prepare the fields for the next planting. I just Googled “burning fields agriculture”, and the first result on the page, interestingly, was the Wikipedia entry for “controlled burn.” So there seems to be a theme emerging here. :)

I’ve decided that I much prefer to fall in line the rhythms of the seasons and the many cultures that have done the same by celebrating New Year in September. Who is with me?

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