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Published:September 18th, 2009 10:19 EST
A tale of three New Year's

A tale of three New Year's

By Geoff Dean

 There are a lot of New Year`s in the world and they fall all over the calendar. There is the raucous and gaudy Chinese New Year, the water tossing Thai New Year, the reverent Islamic New Year, and so on. I, personally, am only close to three of this group and would like to briefly share my associations with each of them.

 First off, I am an American. Growing up, New Year`s, or at least, New Year`s Eve, meant wild parties, loud music, Guy Lombardo playing "Auld Lang Syne", the inevitable countdown, and noise, noise, noise. As I got older, it took on a more alcohol-fueled nature but remained basically the same; a celebration of national childishness, a close cousin of April Fools Day. New Year`s Day meant precious little except football games on TV, a colder version of Thanksgiving without the turkey. It was fun but vacuous, not that that is necessarily bad.

 My first Japanese New Year came at a ski resort that I visited with a group of friends. Come 11PM on New Year`s Eve, my Japanese friends began to go to bed. Sacrilege! I mentioned causually, with only a hint of screaming, that they had an obligation to stay up one more hour. No takers. New Year`s Eve meant little to them.

 I stayed up, ultimately alone, and watched the passing of the midnight hour in silence. I expected the hotel to erupt in noise at the magic hour. It was, in fact, deathly still, except for the slow, melancholy peal of a Buddhist temple bell in the distance, ringing out 108 times, to remove that number of sins in the coming year. I was, to say the least, disappointed.

 Twenty New Year`s later, I have come to find a pleasure in the Japanese New Year. It is a quiet time to reflect on the year past and the one to come. While I am not Buddhist, the bell tolls for me, too. And New Year`s Day is more focal that Eve, anyway. There are special games, foods (like fish cakes of red and white, sweet black beans, fish eggs, and other dishes that are not eaten on any other day), and visits to shrines for a years` worth of blessing.

 Jewish New Year, in my book (not a best seller yet, I`m afraid), is something else, altogether. If American New Year`s is rowdy and Japanese is reflective, Jewish New Year is reverential and awesome, not in the Valley Girl sense, but more in the "shock and awe" variety. It is a time to dip an apple into honey, throw rocks in the lake, and eat a fish head. What does it signify? You want details? Never heard of the Internet?

 Still, more than anything else, Jewish New Year`s is a time to restore relations with God and others. A time to apologize for failings in the past year and to promise to try to do better in the next.

 Which New Year`s do I like best? Why choose? I`m lucky enough to have them all. And I need each one of them.

 May you all have a rich and wonderful Jewish New Year and a sweet new year 5770!