4 min read

Fresh Out of New Years

A fresh-baked sourdough boule, slashed such that a square of concentric flour circles sits decoratively atop the loaf.

Dear Friends,

I've often said that I feel there should be one full month between the end of December and the beginning of the New Year. Our late capitalist modernity doesn't allow me this, but I try to give it to myself anyway by celebrating no fewer than three New Years between December 31 and Feb 3.

The first of them falls on January 1. This is when I seek my New Year's Bird, say "bistreynti 3aleikoum" to as many members of my family as I can before they get me back, and try to do as little housework as possible. The second is the Lunar New Year, whenever it arrives; the third is Imbolc, or, to me personally, the New Year That Counts – the one that feels like a new year has not only arrived, but shrugged off its coat, put its bags down and settled in. Celebrated (by me) on February 2, it's the third one, the final one, the one that's given me the span of time I feel I require to acclimate to the change in calendar.

Usually I observe it with a lot of housecleaning and other domesticity: baking bread or cookies, tidying and dusting and hoovering, opening a window, lighting a candle at sunset and thinking about the year ahead. After this point I don't say "happy new year" in emails anymore; whatever mood it's in, the year's no longer new, its sleeves rolled up around working arms.

I got sick on January 2, and spent most of the month miserable and housebound. As January receded into the distance with emails unanswered and family birthdays delayed, I told myself this was fine, though – I had a cushion! A New Year's Margin. February 2 would roll around and I'd make something of it, clear my eyes, fill my heart, and still be able to feel like I'd gotten this year off to a decent start.

But on Imbolc, I slept in. I'd baked a loaf a couple of days earlier and forgotten to get the sourdough ready for a new one. The week leading up to it was thick with snowstorms giving way to a deep freeze, and opening a window seemed foolhardy. My attempts at cleaning were hurried and haphazard instead of the pleasant, meditative occupation I'd promised myself. Nothing was aligning, and everything felt frustrating and out of joint. I'd given myself three shots at this, and now I was out.

There's nothing quite like failing at something to make you interrogate why you wanted to succeed. What was it, ultimately, that I wanted from accomplishing a few small tasks in a certain order, at a certain time on a certain day? Wasn't it supposed to be a comfort and a pleasure? A release from a pressure to Newly Begin in step with everyone else in a way that I thought unfair and athwart its stated spirit? Hadn't I, finally, only delayed and reorganized that pressure in the guise of relief? And hadn't I still let it crush me?

The upshot of it is, it's February 4. Yesterday I dusted my desk. Today I've fed the sourdough. Tomorrow I'll bake something with it. The days are getting longer whether or not I can see the sun.

Happy New Year, friends. Merry Imbolc. I wish you something warm and good to seize on every new day between now and the next one.

A partially frozen river, edged in trampled snow and thistles, reflecting the last light of the day in warm ripples of gold. Around the edges of the photo are bare trees tangling thin branches into the sun-limned clouds above.

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