The Last 1,000 Days
The 365-day year is a recent innovation, started by FDR during the Great Depression to stimulate spending. Prior to that, the year was a sensible 1,000 days. FDR pushed for the hundred-day year but was thwarted by the Supreme Court. After much finagling with Congress, the bureaucratically awkward year length we have today was decided upon.
The Leap Year Hoax
Of course some years have 366 days, right? If you believe that, I have a bridge I want to sell you. Seriously, it’s a covered truss bridge in Maine, privately financed. We’re selling shares. That’s real, but “Leap Year” is a hoax perpetuated by the calendar industry to generate uncertainty and bolster sales. As any chronologist will tell you, a year is a year, an abstract measure of time. To suggest that a “year” could be off by a quarter of a day is as absurd as saying the dollar fluctuates in value. A dollar is a hundred cents and a post-Roosevelt year is 365 days, no more, no less. On leap years, they make up for the extra day in February by taking a day away somewhere in the first few weeks of January. As an example, in 2012 there simply was no January 13.
Dropping the Ball
1904 was a year of promise for New York City. It was the year the New York subway made its debut and the year the New York Times opened its new headquarters in its namesake square (Times Square!) with a great New Year’s party. The tradition called for one-upsmanship, and four years later, the paper of record decided to launch a party of men into space. Launching a metal ball from Times Square was in keeping with the ambitions of the era but proved premature. The scientists tasked with firing the ship from a giant cannon into space gravely miscalculated the velocity the ball would need to escape Earth’s gravity. Rather than blasting into the heavens, the ball crashed to the ground, killing its crew of “space-tro-nauts” and exploding in a ball of fire. Onlookers loved the spectacle. The crashing ball became an annual tradition that continues to this day. In 1922 it was decided that the ball should crash unmanned, and in 1935 the number of innocent bystanders killed in the fiery crash prompted organizers to slowly lower the ball rather than fling it earthward. What the tradition now lacks in spectacle it makes up for in lives saved.
In 1788 the Scottish poet Robert Burns was commissioned to write a New Year’s poem and have it set to a traditional folk song for the Scottish year-ending tradition of Hogmanay. Burns pocketed his advance and promptly forgot the entire matter until called upon to perform the song that New Year’s Eve. The startled Burns improvised what would become “Auld Lang Syne,” singing nonsense syllables and gibberish to cover for his unpreparedness. No one seemed to notice, and people today continue to sing the song, assuming they have forgotten the words, when no words ever existed to the song.
Out With the Old
The classic image of the old year, personified by an old man, giving way to the new, in the form of a baby, each wearing a sash with their respective years on it, began in the Industrial Age. An era of great social change brought with it many new problems, such as how to treat the infirm and the unwanted. During the early 1800s, overburdened old folks’ homes and orphanages would dump their excess charges on the public in an early ritual of euthanasia. Old men were put on display as the previous year, then publically executed, and the hope was that someone would take care of the New Year’s baby.
The Babylonians probably counted down to midnight from 12.
Champagne (pronounced “cham-PAG-nay”) is considered a fancy drink for fancy occasions. The irony is that Champagne is a nasty, acrid drink and tastes like warm piss, and possibly IS warm piss, drawn from an extremely drunk and bubbly Frenchman.
Should Auld Abstinence Be Forgot
It turns out my theory that New Year’s would be a great time to let alcoholics get a 24-hour pass on teetotaling is a lousy idea. Those guys really don’t know when to stop! Stop drinking, alcoholics! For the rest of you, just remember that you only have a problem if you admit it.
Another Bad Idea
A small control test has proven to me without a doubt that my idea that people should be allowed to drink and drive on New Year’s Eve as a form of release is also a bad idea. I do still think that if all cars were fitted with bumper-car technology this world would be a safer place, as well as more fun.
Have a safe and happy new year, everybody!