The View From Here: Happy New Year?

Volodymyr Kish.

On New Year’s Day I called my cousin Hryts in Pidkamin to wish him a Happy New Year. My call found him warming himself next to his rustic ceramic-tiled stove called a “peech” in a corner of his kitchen and enjoying a fine mug of “herbata” (tea) fortified with a healthy dose of his homemade moonshine-wild berry concoction.

“Nu!” I started off, “How is this New Year treating you so far? Hopefully, it will be a better one than this past year of trials and tribulations!”

I heard something in between a grunt and a chuckle from his end before he replied.

“Well, my dear turnip head, I thank you for kind wishes, and regardless of what happened these past twelve months, I would like you to know that I am immensely grateful that I am greeting this new year above the ground rather than below it. Each new day that I wake up hale and hearty is a gift, and each year that I can enjoy another revolution around the sun is a treasure! You do know of course, that according to our traditional Julian calendar, the New Year does not start for another two weeks?!”

“I am well aware of that,” I replied, “but, I prefer the more scientifically based Gregorian calendar’s January 1st as the dividing line between the old and the new year. Historical traditions are fine, but I think for practical purposes, we should acknowledge that January 1st and not January 14th is the correct New Year’s Day.”

“Meh!” I heard Hryts exclaim with no small measure of disdain. “You would not know the difference between correct and a pile of manure if you fell into it! And just why do you think that January 1st marks the beginning of a new year rather than say some day in March or September? All dates are arbitrary and artificial. It would make much more sense “scientifically” to have the vernal equinox on March 21st mark the end of a year and the beginning of a new one, since it marks the end of winter and the start of spring. Or how about the winter solstice on December 21, since that marks the date of the longest night of the year, and from that point on, the days start getting longer? Or how about…”

I cut him off at that point, remarking “Enough, enough Hrytsiu! You’ve made your point. I know calendar dates are somewhat arbitrary, but we need to agree on some form of time and calendar standards to have some structure around which to arrange our lives. Otherwise, we would have nothing but chaos.”

I heard a quiet chuckle at Hryts’ end before he continued in his usual irrascible way.

“And what is wrong with a little bit of chaos?’ I heard him exclaim. “Even your scientific experts in recent decades have formulated what they call “chaos theory” which proposes that within what appears to be a random chaotic system, there can be underliying patterns and self-organization. In fact, in nature, almost all structures are derived from the consequences of random or unpredictable events. The whole basis of modern quantum physics is derived from the notion that what appears solid or real is an illusion, and that everything is really at its root nothing but a series of probability equations.”

For a moment, I was left discomfited and at a loss for words as I sought to regain my composure.

“Now Hrytsiu,” I tried to continue, “How did we get into this conversational black hole? I just wanted to wish you a Happy New Year.”

“You are right, my dearest turnip! I am being ungracious and having too much fun at your expense. I appreciate your taking the time to call and wish your old goat of a cousin Hryts the best in the coming year, regardless of which calendar either of us is using. You realize of course that in two weeks time, I will call you and wish you a Happy Ukrainian New Year! And just to be precise, if we use the current currency exchange rate of 20 Hryvnias to the Canadian dollar as a benchmark, my New Year’s greeting will be worth only one twentieth of your New Year’s greeting, so I will have to repeat it at least twenty times to stay even with you.”

With that, my New Year got off to an interesting start.