New Year’s Closer Look: Culture vs. The Self-Determined Life

I want to say that I’ve never understood why people go into the new year the way they do, blowing up their hard-earned and all-too-little cash, starting the new year with a hangover… but I do.

The explanation is easy, and it is a great example of what cultural relativism really is.

Thinking about it, it’s also a great example of why you might want to do some things differently, in self-determined ways.

(Self-determination’s also something a bit less simple than we might think, but that’s a different story.)

So, what’s happening – and what do I do differently?

New Year’s

I can always find remainders of New Year’s Eve the day after. The 30 minutes after midnight sound like a war zone – and there, we are just one country (if a bigger one) away from Ukraine; I could take a train going directly from Vienna to Kyiv!

People here just love their fireworks. They will complain about the cost of everything, the little they earn – and then promptly go and buy fireworks that turn their money into a bang and some smoke, disturb everyone, cause pollution…

But hey, ooooh, shiny lights, loud bangs – and it’s the tradition! The church bells also have to get going like there’s no tomorrow without them; it’s the custom!

Cultural Relativism

And here’s the cultural relativism: You have to explain culture, traditions, from the logic that they belong to, not your own.

Culture only remains (and perhaps, spreads) through transmission to other people, especially across generations.

A lot of that happens without our ever thinking too much about it.

We had a child the year before last, and another one just last year, so we are establishing Christmas traditions – at least, traditions for the Christmas holidays – with our nearly two-year-old already.

Santa Claus makes for better stories and is more international; the Christ child (Christkind) is the Austrian tradition, but closer to Christianity than we might like.

Christian or not, we won’t avoid Christmas altogether. It’s just too nice and too much of a tradition here, and here is where we live.

We probably won’t even notice lots of things that we teach our child, that our child learns just from growing up in Austria – and again, that’s how culture keeps itself going.

Our Say

We must not forget that we have a say, if we don’t just participate in things because that’s just how they are, in how we live.

Of course it’s hard to avoid New Year’s Eve parties if that’s something your family and friends do.

Being a part of groups, having social relationships, is hardly the worst thing, even if it isn’t with family and close-knit friends.

Again: This is how culture works, how societies continue to exist.

It also works, less easily and certainly less automatically, for us as individuals to question such things and decide not to participate.

As I said in introducing this closer look at New Year’s, I’ve never understood – and admittedly, this has become a part of my family’s traditions:

You stay awake, desperately or dancing, to see in a new year… and as a result, you’ll start the new year getting up late and hungover?

Sure, it’s a tradition. There’s a reason New Year’s Day is a day off.

I just listened to the Whoop podcast (Whoop as in Whoop band, that performance and recovery tracking wearable), and the hosts mentioned that New Year’s Day is the single, universally, worst day of Whoop users…

Doing Things Differently

I celebrate the beginning of the new year differently.

I’m in bed before midnight, wake up to the war zone sounds around midnight and go right back to sleep – but then, the next morning, I can be up more or less like usual and get going.

I have decided that this is the way to go for me. Fortunately, the rest of the family agrees; my wife is just too tired and would care about the Chinese new year, the baby can’t yet care about partying long, the dog agrees with sleep at night and getting going in the morning.

And so I get up and get going. After all…

There’s a world to (micro)explore, to look at closer, to learn more about – and I want to celebrate the new year, and try and be good with every day I get!

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