New year feels like all-clear

Column by Ann Macari Healey

Ann Macari Healey
Posted 1/4/13

We'd come, my family and I, to the 16th Street Mall to watch fireworks paint a final glittery statement to the departing year against the black …

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New year feels like all-clear

Column by Ann Macari Healey


We'd come, my family and I, to the 16th Street Mall to watch fireworks paint a final glittery statement to the departing year against the black backdrop above Denver's skyline — or, depending on one's perspective, write a vibrant, joyful opening line for a new script.

The reverberating beat of up-tempo techno music pulsed through the lighthearted crowd, bundled in jackets and scarves as frosty puffs of breath rose and briskly dissipated in the winter air. A loud cheer echoed through the concrete canyon as rapid-fire, brilliant booms signaled the display's end.

Just like that, one more cycle completed, another set in motion.

“A new start,” 18-year-old Devin Williams of Aurora said.

“New beginnings,” agreed Yekatena Breez, 24, of Russia, here visiting friends.

“A chance,” said Kevinia Pickford, also 24, of Denver, as she gazed into the sky, “to start up right again.”

For many, New Year's Eve is more than a reason to celebrate. The older I've grown, the more I've come to appreciate the underlying reflection that threads through the traditional revelry. The clock is ticking away my minutes; I want to make sure what's left counts. Although I consistently reassess and set goals, the transition from the old year to the new one provides a concrete place to shed pieces of my life that didn't work and keep those that did, reshuffle priorities to accommodate evolving experiences, or to just plant some new dreams.

The opportunity to be able to alter course — if needed or wanted — at a moment that provides a fresh and dependable starting point seems comforting.

“Every new beginning,” the Roman philosopher Seneca said, “comes from some other beginning's end.”

The tradition of renewal is age-old.

New year celebrations date back some 4,000 years to the ancient Babylonians, who believed the first new moon after the day in late March with an equal amount of sunlight and darkness ushered the start of a new year. For centuries, civilizations celebrated New Year's Day at different times of the year around festivals of religious significance. They celebrated much like we do, with music and dance and festivity.

While most of the world today marks Jan. 1 as the start of the new year, some countries still follow their own calendars. Depending on the moon's position, the Chinese New Year, for instance, falls anywhere between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20.

Traditions are as colorful and unique as the fireworks that light up the night.

Spaniards eat 12 grapes before midnight, each representing a month that will be either sweet or sour. Danes jump off chairs to symbolize leaping into the new year. The Thai throw water on each other because they believe water washes away bad luck and makes people fresh. The dropping of the Times Square ball in New York City has become an iconic countdown worldwide of the year's end.

Regardless of the ritual or superstition, sociologists say new year's celebrations are a way to let go of the past in a spirited, carefree manner before buckling down to start anew.

Continuous psychological rebirth.

Monica McLaughlin, 48, of Highlands Ranch, describes it as a reset button.

“Maybe you didn't accomplish everything you wanted to,” she said. “Reset. It's not `I have to go all the way back to the beginning. It's where can I start from?' … Basically, it's to own your life as you can.”

Her good friend, Winston Murrell, 58, understands that sentiment. He is a tall man with a silvery stubble flecked across his cheeks and a navy blue New York Yankees beanie covering his head. He teaches middle school.

Eight years ago, a heart condition almost ended his life. “Everything is a second chance,” he said. “I'm living on borrowed time.”

So, he looks to the challenge of the unknown, which comes full circle every New Year's Eve.

“You look at what you have come through in the past year and the promise of the future is before you. The future,” he said, “is unwritten.”

Like a clean sheet of paper waiting for the words of a story.

Devin Williams has some ideas for his: Get straight As in college. Be successful. Live a good life.

So does Kevinia Pickford, on this night working as a crosswalk officer ushering hordes of fireworks spectators safely across the street. “My goal is to graduate from college this year, go into my nursing career and then start planning for school for my 2-year-old son.”

We headed home, the burst of fireworks already fading in memory, thoughts of tomorrow already scurrying through my mind, the tick, ticking of the clock interrupted by the excitement of possibility and purpose.

American businessman David Weinbaum has this to say about new ventures: “The secret to a rich life is to have more beginnings than endings.”

I like that: Perpetual storylines of hope and promise. Constant rejuvenation — just like an old year giving way to a new one.

Ann Macari Healey's column about people, places and issues of everyday life appears every other week. She can be reached at or 303-566-4110.

#topopinion1, ann macari healey, Kevina, Pickford, 16th Street Mall


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