[Viewpoint]Saying goodbye to 2007Year-end parties are one of many things I feel nostalgic about, as I spent nearly 10 years overseas. They are a familiar custom that make me think, “People still live as they did in the past.”
These days, the mangnyeonhoi, which literally means a party to forget what happened last year, has been replaced by the songnyunhoi, which means a party to say goodbye to the outgoing year. However, the word mangnyeonhoi reminds me of the past. Mangnyeonhoi is defined as a custom where people get together to ring out the old year and drink to it.
The keywords are year-end, gathering and alcohol. Year-end is the time when gloomy weather becomes fierce and the last page of the calendar hangs alone. It is also the season when we have a dissatisfied feeling, as if something ended in mid-course. We feel the urge to gather with others.
The people we have easiest access to, in reality, are our coworkers. Regardless of whether we like or dislike them, we sit face-to-face with them every day passing some of the most precious time in our lives.
However, whenever we are experiencing difficulties in our lives, the people we most want to meet with are friends, alumni and acquaintances. Year-end parties in the workplace have their limits because they reflect the occupational hierarchy. Meanwhile, a year-end party with friends is a place we can associate with each other intimately, not being guided by self-interest.
As a matter of fact, the year-end party satisfies our private and common needs. First of all, it provides a window of opportunity to make sure I still belong to the community. In this regard, we rummage the pocket diaries that record our social ties with other people to see whom we have spent time with.
Even though the workplace year-end party is designed to help the company by promoting worker efficiency, it also gives coworkers the chance to spend time together outside of the office’s competitive environment. It reincarnates our shared dream of an ideal community where people help and rely on each other, rescuing it from the clutches of dreary reality.
The year-end party reinvigorates our hope for trustworthy social relationships. It is a ritual that mends troubled friendships.
Alcohol is a prerequisite if the ritual is to succeed. If we don’t like excessive drinking, the thought of the year-end party weighs us down. Therefore, alcohol-free parties or going to movies as a group sometimes substitute for drinking parties.
However, if alcohol disappears form year-end parties, they might lose their magical power. The party restores the disappearing community. Alcohol provides a temporary escape from reality and consoles us by helping us share feelings of regret.
The year-end party meets our need for getting together. In this regard, it is like the end of a narrative. A narrative form of literature takes a period of our lives and gives it a beginning and ending. It contributes to our understanding of the world we live in.
If the lives people lead are like a story, the year-end party is the time when all the loose ends are tied up and all the questions are answered.
Now is the time for us to say goodbye to the old year and hello to the new. The year-end party is a ritual that reinvigorates people’s minds and starts a new life in a new year.
This year is different. People say it doesn’t feel like the season of year-end parties. It does not seem that people are less willing to pass the wine glass round, therefore, something else must be making people gloomy.
The sluggish national economy and tasteless presidential election may be dampening the year-end party spirit. Perhaps, the success of the year-end party needs the help of the country and society.
*The writer is a visiting professor at the Dong-a Institute of Media and Arts and a cultural critic. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kwak Han-joo