I guess that most of us are pleased to see the back of 2022; I know I am. A chaotic out of control government, three Prime Ministers and numerous chancellors, the passing of Queen Elizabeth, war in Ukraine, horrendous fuel prices, rapidly increasing food poverty and food banks, as well as all the personal issues that we all have to deal with. Of course, the passing of one year and the beginning of another doesn’t mean the end to all of our problems; in many ways it is just a brief respite, before a disappointing resumption of our worries and concerns. Despite this, a pause does provide a renewal of optimism and hope for the future, as well as an excuse for a good party, whatever the reality may be.
I’m always uneasy about the “Happy New Year” greetings that we belt out to anyone that we meet, either on social media or in person. Whenever I hear these words, I have a mental vison of a grinning Ken Dodd, manically waving his ‘tickling stick’, whilst singing that rather troubling song ‘Happiness’. In reality, of course, we are not meant to be happy all the time, and we need the bad times to help us to appreciate the good times. I’m far happier with a greeting of “A Healthy New Year” than just focussing on the ‘Happy’ part, but I know that I am once again in danger of overthinking the issue.
It all comes back to Great Aunt Sylvie, an elderly no nonsense lady who passed several years ago. Aunt Sylvie was not the cheeriest of people, and would always respond to our New Year greetings with distain, “I never wish anyone a Happy New Year” she would snap back. I once cheekily responded with “So you want us to have a miserable New Year then?”, a comment that she rightly ignored. On another occasion, I asked her why she said this, and for once, she gave me an answer that helped me to understand a little more.
Aunt Sylvie was always one to accept a free meal if one was offered. Her home was conveniently surrounded by several chapels and churches of different faiths. Aunt Sylvie would make it her business to find out which ones were offering a “decent cooked meal” on Sundays, high days and holidays, and particularly at Christmas. Aunt Sylvie was a woman of principle and out of common decency would ensure that she attended at least one service before the intended meal; after all, she couldn’t be seen as a ‘free loader’, could she?
It was at one of these services that the young minister loudly proclaimed the evils of wishing everyone a “A Happy New Year” from the pulpit. It sounded like the kind of sermon found in various books intended for new vicars; ready-made sermons that newly qualified ministers could grab just before the Sunday morning service. The words “Happy New Year” were “A nonsense, unrealistic and dangerous in raising false hopes”; in essence it was “meaningless twaddle”, according to the young minister. Far better to wish someone a “Healthy New Year” and… Aunt Sylvie couldn’t remember the rest of the sermon, and the reasoning behind it, but it certainly made a big impression upon her, and one that she didn’t contradict for once. She had an unfortunate reputation for making loud mumblings and groans from her pew if she disagreed with a sermon, which was often the case, according to many who knew her. Indeed, Aunt Sylvie was so impressed with this sermon, and no doubt the meal that followed, that she continued to attend this particular chapel for several weeks afterwards, that is until a better offer for Sunday lunch came along.
Great Aunt Sylvie passed long ago, but her words have remained with me and I always reflect upon them at this time of the year. Although I disagreed wholeheartedly with her at the time, I now realise that the young minister was probably right, and that Aunt Sylvie did have a point, although I never heard the full explanation.
As a result, I have a conflicting view of “Happy New Year”. Whilst living in Spain and the Canary Islands, anyone that we happened to meet, particularly when taking our dogs for a walk, whether we knew them or not, would always wish us “Feliz Ano Nuevo”. Sadly, in Devon, most people simply look the other way or ignore us, unless we know them. This is yet another of the many cultural changes that we are trying to adjust to.
However you spend it, we wish you all a “Healthy, Happy and Successful New Year” and that you all continue to ‘Travel Hopefully’ throughout your lives.
Er, so sorry Aunt Sylvie.
© Barrie Mahoney 2023
This article is part of the book 'Travelling Hopefully' by Barrie Mahoney.
You can find out more about the author and this book by clicking here