Enjoy the youngest day of your life
As the new year comes, Koreans grow a year older. We all grow older, not younger. Looking back, the only time that I liked getting older was when I became old enough to attend elementary school and when I turned 20. The weight of age becomes heavier as the number becomes bigger. As we reach new milestones, we are given new challenges and tasks. In my classroom, there was a sign, “The young become old soon. It takes a lot of time to learn something. We must not waste any time.” My teacher was right when he said, “It will be too late if you regret it later.”
What is age, and what does a new year mean? When we can barely take care of ourselves in this cold winter, why should we make new resolutions for our lives?
During a business trip to Papua New Guinea in the South Pacific a few months ago, I was surprised to find out that many people weren’t aware of the concept of age. It was just as amazing as the fact that it was not a resort island despite its location and the image from the name, and many of the 700 tribes have cannibal traditions. Located right below the equator, Papua New Guinea does not have spring, autumn or winter. It is always summer, and the season varies only depending on rainfall. Instead of farming, people rely on gathering and hunting, so the season does not matter to them. Since they don’t have the concept of a cycle of seasons and years, they don’t think about age. Instead, they have a rank within the tribe based on the order they were born in. They live an infinite cycle of daily routines. Per capita national income is about $2,000, but Papua New Guinea always ranks high on surveys of happiness.
It is easy to assume that everyone in the world is ringing in the new year, but it is not the case. In Muslim parts of the world, the year changed on Oct. 24 based on the Hijri calendar, where a year is about 10 days shorter than on the Gregorian calendar. This year, the new year was in mid-October. Muslims do not celebrate the New Year much. Eid al-Fitr, the breaking of the fast, is a more important celebration, and many consider it the beginning of a new year. Jews and Hindus also have different days for when the new year begins.
Even according to the solar calendar, the spring equinox, when the days become longer than the nights, marked the beginning of the year until 46 B.C. Emperor Julius of the Roman Empire moved it up by two months, and the northern hemisphere now celebrates the new year in the middle of winter. After all, ages, and the new year, are nothing special. They are just concepts. So we might as well enjoy the youngest day of the rest of our lives.
The author is a deputy national news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 1, Page 31
by LEE SANG-EON