Rabbit! Rabbit! Welcome to 2023! This old bunny may not see the clock strike midnight, but I’m recovering from a bad cold. Rest is more important than ringing in the New Year. Every year has its own character.
Zeitgeist is a word that comes straight from German — zeit means “time” and geist means spirit, so the “spirit of the time” is what’s going on culturally, religiously, or intellectually during a certain period. When it comes to the turn of the New Year, we bunnies wonder if our new broom will sweep clean or if the old broom will leave the same mess as always in our cozy rabbit dens.
Are we filled with hope or with foreboding? Do these dark days and deep nights of winter fill us with a gloomy spirit? Or do the imperceptibly lengthening minutes of daytime give hope to the shadows the cold of winter has left in the depths of our souls? Or have the coastal grandmother bunnies among us learned to ignore all this stum and drang by blending their afternoon tea time into early evening wine tasting?
Everything a culture considers taboo, evil, or immoral typically ends up being proscribed or “consigned to the outer darkness.” From there it ends up inside us in what Carl Jung called “the Shadow,” or our inner “Satan,” as it were. Repressed and inhibited, it festers and rages in the darkness of our “unconscious.” Even in extreme cases, it takes on a quasi-autonomous existence of its own, occasionally intruding as the famous “voices in the head” or even as a multiple personality.
Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde is a famous light and dark shadow character from fiction, but too often in real life we rabbits point out our own dark shadows in the lives of those we so easily demonize. As my wise old granddaddy rabbit would reprimand me, “When you point out the faults of others, you have three fingers pointing back at you.”
I always find life more refreshing on the first day of the year, perhaps because I don’t over indulge in strong drink as I once did in my wayward bunny youth. We bunnies all have a wayward youth, for how else would we know what the immature among us are getting into? My old daddy rabbit believed, “Experience was the greatest teacher of all time, as well as its most costly tutor.” Indeed, we remember the costliest lessons best of all. The young ones today say, “Go big or go home.” My grannie would say, “If you’re in for a penny, you might as well be in for a pound.” After all, everyone who participated, either in a small or large way, would be held accountable.
As I look back on old 2022, grizzled and worn out by conflicts both at home and abroad, I can understand why the ancients thought of Janus, for whom January’s named, as a two faced god. One face, which looked backwards, was lined, bearded, and craggy featured, while the forward looking face of the new year was youthful, smooth, and clean shaven. Every new year is fresh and clean as a beardless youth’s face, as well as untroubled by any recollection of pains or past memories. Most of us bunnies also have short memories, for we tend to repeat the same mistakes over and over. Rabbits have short term memories of around 4 minutes, but can remember bad experiences for longer periods, just as humans can.
In Ancient Rome, as the poets Ovid and Horace recount, Janus was the god of war and peace. They differ as to whether the Temple of Janus was a prison for peace or war, but they both agree the prison was meant to maintain PAX ROMANA, or the great Roman Peace. If peace were impounded, peace would be guaranteed to the nation. If war were imprisoned, it wouldn’t rampage about to destroy the countryside. Just as Janus had two faces, Roman religion was open to multiple interpretations and meanings. Perhaps today, they’d be known as “freethinkers,” as opposed to “literalists” or “strict constructionists” in their interpretation of their ancient stories.
Maybe in 2023 we bunnies might want to look at different ways of thinking, instead of one fixed way. There’s a difference between a straight and narrow path and a rut. On the path we can still see other twists and turns, which might change the outcome of our experience and existence. In a rut we’re stuck for life, with no where out, until it becomes our grave. If the world is changing more quickly than is comfortable for us, I give the example of my old granddaddy again. He pushed a button to turn on one of the first electric lights in his home town and lived to see men walk on the moon. Be resilient, be adaptable, and embrace change. After all, we’re always changing, so the option of never changing is death.
Romans would celebrate January 1 by giving offerings to Janus in the hope of gaining good fortune for the new year. They believed their acts set the stage for the coming year, so it was a common practice to make a positive start to the year. Not only did they exchange well wishes and sweet gifts of figs and honey with one another, but according to the poet Ovid, most Romans also chose to work for at least part of New Year’s Day because they saw idleness as a bad omen for the rest of the year. If 1st century Romans were to drop into some of our 21st century celebrations by means of Dr. Who’s traveling blue Police Box, they would wonder how the barbarians, who sacked Rome in 455 CE, had managed to take over our modern New Year.
We toga wearing bunnies, who are long of tooth, know from experience the barbarians are always at the gate of our safe little gardens. Sometimes they’re even inside the gardens of delight, as Peter Rabbit and his Cottontail friends perpetually discover when Mr. McGregror chases them with a rake. If we cast a look back on 2022 with our rheumy eyes, we saw Russia attack Ukraine, an outrageous act which sent millions of people to emigrate from their the destroyed cities and ravaged countryside, with the hope of finding safe haven in another European country.
Across the pond, on our southern border, thousands of migrants have fled disaster and violence in their homelands, but even though the US economy is hurting for workers in our entry level jobs, they have difficulty getting in. Are these people actually “barbarians at the gate?” Or have we projected our Shadow Fears upon them because they are foreigners? We did this with the Japanese, who m we placed into Internment Camps in World War II, much to our disgrace. This bunny asks us to search our hearts in 2023 to see if our three fingers are pointing back at our own selves.
Think about how Woodstock symbolized the 1960s: Woodstock was part of the Zeitgeist of the 1960s. Whatever seems particular to or symbolic of a certain time is likely part of its Zeitgeist. I came home from college one Christmas wearing a necklace of tiny black and white seed beads, only to be greeted by my old fashioned daddy, “Are you a hippy now?” For him, any one thing represented the whole, for he grew up with the ancient bunny wisdom, “One bad apple spoils the bushel.” We were only reconciled when he realized I hadn’t lost my fondness for his beloved Cowboys football team.
If we can find one common interest in this strange and fraught world with those with whom we would be at war, then we might be able to come to peace with them. If we insist on all or nothing, no bunny will get anything. We all want to have endless days of peace and joy, but the life of a bunny also has days of struggle and sorrow.
Carl Jung, the great psychologist once said, “There are as many nights as days, and the one is just as long as the other in the year’s course. Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word ‘happy’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.”
We also have this promise from 1 Corinthians 10:13—
“No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”
Many of my southern bunny kinfolks will eat a variety of this New Year’s Day meal: black eyed peas, ham, greens, and cornbread. We think every pea consumed equals another day of good luck. Of course, we’re not the only superstitious clan.
Our cousins in Japan, celebrating Ōmisoka, or New Year’s Eve, gather together to eat long noodles to cross over from one year to the next. At midnight, many visit shrines or temples for Hatsumōde. Shinto shrines prepare amazake, a sweet low alcohol drink, to pass out to crowds and most Buddhist temples have large cast bells that are struck once for each of the 108 earthly desires believed to cause human suffering.
I found some interesting New Year’s good luck traditions, which are practiced around the world. In Greece, folks hang onions outside on their front doors to ward off evil. On New Year’s Eve, Colombian households have a tradition, called agüero, of placing three potatoes under each family member’s bed—one peeled, one not, and the last one only partially. At midnight each person, with eyes closed, grabs for one. Depending on the potato they select, they can either expect a year of good fortune, financial struggle, or a mix of both.
In Ireland, people bang Christmas bread against the walls of their house for good luck. If any of you bunnies have a Christmas fruitcake still lying around, please choose another loaf to prevent damage to your walls. Good contractors are backed up and hard to find, especially around the holidays.
The Danes chunk plates at their friends’ doorsteps for good luck on New Year’s Eve. Perhaps all that darkness from the winter solstice makes my northern relatives harebrained, but we love them just the same. I suppose every bunny has some weird relatives.
Old bunny weather lore says, “The first 12 days of January foretell the weather for each month of the year.” Another way to forecast the weather for the coming year depends on the wind. The old bunnies are at odds as to when this poem should be recited, with some advocating for sunset on New Year’s Eve and others at the break of dawn on New Year’s Day. This bunny notes the poem mentions New Year’s Eve, and since none of our ancient bunnies had time traveling abilities, I’d think we are safe to practice this on the Eve at sunset, then go out to do our responsible reveling.
If New Year’s Eve the wind blows south
It betokens warmth and growth.
If west, much milk and fish in the sea.
If north, cold and storms there will be.
If east, the trees will bear much fruit.
If north east, then flee it, man and brute. Then throw your new year wishes to the wind!
My New Year’s wish for 2023 is for each and every one of my bunny friends to have a better year than last year. And especially to know deep in your hearts, each of you are God’s own beloved children. Remember this good word from Romans 8:28—
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
Joy, peace, and love each and every day in 2023,
Multiple Interpretation of the Opening and Closing of the Temple of Janus:
A Misunderstanding of Ovid “Fasti” by S.J. Green, 1.281 on JSTOR
5 Ancient New Year’s Celebrations – HISTORY
15 New Year’s Traditions From Around the World | Glamour
New Year’s Weather Folklore: Predicting Weather in the New Year | The Old Farmer’s Almanac
The Zeitgeist and the Shadow | The Chrysalis https://longsworde.wordpress.com/2018/07/20/the-zeitgeist-and-the-shadow/