I Don’t Really ‘Get’ Holidays

Holidays are confusing to me. I understand them in the way that I can understand a topic like colour theory or linguistics professors who are language prescriptivists, though I may not necessarily like or agree with them. I know they exist, and I know that people engage with them in some capacity.

But I don’t get them.

I understand why people celebrate them, at least from a distance. I can see the kinds of joy that people have when celebrating these things with other people, though it’s not something that I ever really had. I’ve spent most holidays since leaving home either on my own or with people for whom they weren’t really part of their own cultures. A lot of this has left me considering my own relationship to them and what they represent to me, if anything.

Afterall, what can an independence day mean to someone who both isn’t from the country they live in and is for the abolition of all borders? What is the point of religious holidays when you’re not religious? How are some anniversaries important when you feel the passage of time differently or notice that we’ve lost much of what they represent?

That’s not to say that I don’t partake in any holidays. There are some that I take great joy in participating in and do genuinely understand, like the many different holidays that revolve around death. Perhaps that’s a bit ironic, but those are the ones that make the most sense to me. There is comfort in looking to the past and how it can help us to better understand both our present and future, and I get that because I feel it very strongly. Those days are also moments where we can celebrate the lives that the people we loved had, to remember them and what they brought to everyone and everything they touched.

Remembering someone, even remembering something, makes sense to me. I get that. Or, at least, I get most of it as long as it has a more personal connection or recognises people, groups, and moments that are all about trying to achieve and maintain some form of liberation (regardless of whether it was successful or not).

But I don’t get most holidays.

In particular, as I’m writing this starting on New Year’s Eve 2022 and going into New Year’s Day 2023, I don’t get this obsession with celebrating a new year. At the very least, I don’t get what it even means to us today and in this fashion. Perhaps it’s because it feels particularly forced that we should all look forward to the new year as if it’s going to be responsible for bringing significant change when that’s only ever been up to us, or maybe it’s because it’s a time where people are told to set unreasonable goals for themselves and to meet those challenges without any community to support them.

Everything is individual. A person can change as long as they do it alone. It’s all up to you. No one else, it seems, is responsible.

And if they don’t achieve those goals, they’ve failed. It’s no one’s fault except their own.

Many of these resolutions are made around ideas of self-improvement, which isn’t an inherently bad thing to focus on. But it almost always takes the same structure found in the self-help manuals that people peddle, focusing on the demands of a neoliberal society rather than our own genuine well-being. It’s always something tied to what some part of our society claims is necessary and is supposedly within our control: losing weight, getting a better job, and so on. They’re visions of ourselves that society wants to see, not things that we’re actually happy to be. They typically focus on what other people expect of us, and they almost never come with any form of collective care.

If we want to “improve,” we’re on our own.

Most people fail them and will be reminded of this time and time again, particularly on the eve of a new year when they go to make the same resolution once more because this time they’ll definitely succeed. The commercials about getting gym memberships for the new year will play on the guilt of someone who has tried, and failed, to lose weight. Family often prods those who failed to give up an addiction, like smoking, as if it’s something that’s so simple to do alone and without being able to create a better environment to do it in.

I recall that years ago when I partook in resolutions that most of my own, if people asked me about them, were about weight loss. That was the expectation because I was, and still am, a fat person. I only ever managed to meet that goal once in my life, and it was because I became so violently ill I couldn’t eat actual food for over a month and took even longer to recover. People congratulated me for all the hard work I had done and how proud they were that I had achieved that goal, including my doctor who knew how violently ill I was and what toll it took on my body. 

It really fucked me up, and I’m still dealing with that. People congratulated me for getting sick. But they were happy because I achieved the goal I’d set for myself to fit within the boundaries of society. At any cost, even one that has left so much damage upon my being.

They really don’t care what it costs anyone to meet those goals. Our mental health can be destroyed, and we can be left struggling with chronic illnesses. As long as we assimilate into the ‘correct’ social standards, it doesn’t matter. But we’re on our own until we meet society’s absurd expectations.

Honestly, we’re on our own most of the time anyway because we’re also left to deal with the consequences of meeting them, too. We’re left to figure out how to silently deal with everything we’ve endured, and we still remain isolated and alienated in ways we hoped we’d never be. The community we thought we’d have if only we just did everything right never seems to materialise. It always seems just beyond our grasp, existing in the most superficial of ways and weaving us further into the systems that do more harm than good.

But I also don’t understand this timing. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived in places where I’ve seen multiple new years within the same year, further making the “global” date feel all the more inappropriate. From the fact that it’s set in the middle of winter instead of at the end and on a specific date rather than tied to something like the cycles of the moon—much like Lunar New Year—is to the fact that most people celebrate it in the same standardised ways that we expect from of everyone (whether they want to or not), this holiday has always left me with far more questions than answers.

Sometimes I question all the obvious things that I’ve often asked about ever since I was a child, all those things that never had satisfactory answers. But more than ever I find myself asking about purpose, about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

Like, why do our celebrations of this ‘global’ new year focus on individual achievement rather than collective responsibility? Rarely do I ever hear discussions where people spend time working out what they plan to do as a collective and how they plan to build systems of support for those who need them. I have yet to see any organisation with resources under their belt discuss how they plan to support multiple smaller projects, ensuring that they can at least try their damnedest to get off the ground or keep going in any meaningful capacity. I don’t see any of the labour unions I’ve been a part of setting forth actual and stated goals for what they want to do, even if it’s only to their membership.

What I do constantly see are organisations dropping projects they did support left and right, leaving people to pick up the pieces on their own or give up entirely. I see labour unions holding yearly elections for things that, ultimately, have little impact beyond changing names rather than any functional policies or structures. I see little movement about how we could radically change the world and what we can do to get there. Beyond “being better,” there seems to be radio silence on any coherent goals to work toward.

But that “being better” never seems to materialise. Or, if it does, it’s always reminiscent of a diversity, equality, and inclusion statement.

There are rumblings of wanting to “decolonise” our spaces, which really is only halfway to where we need to be considering all the co-option that term has undergone. If anything, we need to recognise that we should be anti-colonial and try to figure out what that even looks like, especially for our own context. This includes how we celebrate holidays and which we opt to focus on.

Why is it that we avoid recognising that this specific New Year celebration is part of the global hegemony? Why do we fail to acknowledge that it continues to enforce imperialist and colonialist values on many who never asked for it? What about all of the other times of year that hold significance and embody symbols of renewal, fresh starts, new opportunities, and hope? Where is the recognition of those other new years beyond neoliberal marketing campaigns designed around faux DEI campaigns?

It remains to be seen how inclusive we really can be. I wonder if there’s a resolution we could make there.

A continual request that is made around this year is for there to be no fireworks, especially as they easily trigger trauma responses in many people for a range of reasons. It doesn’t matter that there are people for whom these displays disturb and interrupt their sleep cycles, forcing them into adapting to something they shouldn’t need to. It’s continually pointed out how much damage they do to our environment, including the ways in which they terrify animals. Yet people, including anarchists, fight back against this because they… enjoy them. It doesn’t seem to matter how much harm they cause or how dangerous they can be; it doesn’t matter what they do to the health of others. They’re pretty and fun! Why should we stop?

Perhaps we could use a group resolution to consider the needs of others over our desires for pretty explosions.

In other instances, people choose to celebrate by imbibing lots of alcohol. This doesn’t inherently annoy me on its own, but it comes with an absurd amount of social pressure on those of us who opt not to. As someone who doesn’t drink for a range of reasons, I am always met with people telling me how often I’m “ruining the vibe” and push me to do something I have never enjoyed. And despite our focus on resolutions, which often include working towards sobriety for many people, there is still a constant push of partaking in social drinking.

Maybe we could use a group resolution about allowing people to do what they feel is best for themselves and refraining from pressuring them into celebrating in the ways we want them to.

New beginnings can happen whenever we need them, and they can be tied to any time: today, tomorrow, and anything beyond. This arbitrary date, this arbitrary year… They have no inherent meaning to us.

I think I don’t get this time of year because, rather than being a joyous occasion, it feels more like a time where people are in pain and coerced into hiding it. There are too many memories of all the things we could have done and could have changed but never did. It’s an all too clear reminder of how often we choose to maintain the status quo as we look back on the choices we’ve made, even within our “radical” communities.

It’s hard for me to look back at what has happened and believe that there’s a point in celebrating something “new” when all I see are the same old behaviours and the building of the same few pedestals. Holidays like the ‘global’ New Year only seem to symbolise a failure to change, a failure to act, and a failure to care. They feel like distractions that keep us fighting for the bare minimum, especially as we stand in awe of expensive and tedious displays of wealth and opulence that are used to ring in the new year.

Maybe I just don’t get it because it feels like the “just go vote” of holidays, as if people expect changes to come with the increasing numbers rather than taking responsibility for doing things themselves. It feels like so many leave it up to fate rather than our own capacities, whatever those might be.

Or maybe I do get it, but it just seems so incredibly unimportant because it’s a pacifying kind of fun that keeps us quiet without really engaging with the world around us.