Canadian Firefighter Magazine

From the Editor: The history of beginning anew

Laura Aiken   

Features Laura Aiken

We made it. The year 2020, and all its unprecedented upheaval and misery, silver linings and sacrifices, has ended. Our New Year is off to an encouraging start with the continued roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines. The vaccine has brought hope, however uncertain the timelines to fully exiting this pandemic may be.

Life is still unusual, a new normal with some aspects we may want to keep and others we can’t wait to shake. Acute anxiety is still a concern for many. Mindset, purpose and patience will continue to be bedrocks on which to lay a pandemic weary soul. If you are into making New Year’s resolutions, this seems to be an especially poignant year to consider how you will carry forth with the renewed sense of purpose, health and wellness that accompany this annual goal-setting tradition. Annual affirmation has held a special place in the human consciousness for several millennia.

New Year’s resolutions have a long history of renewing humanity’s commitment to improvement. The ancient Babylonians practiced annual  renewal through the 12-day festival of Akitu more than 4,000 years ago. The Babylonians coincided their vows of loyalty to the new or sitting King with the spring harvest in March rather than January, marking the beginning of the agrarian year. Special rituals were carried out to keep them in good standing with their gods. The early Romans also initially rang in their New Year in March with the swearing in of new city magistrates, but around 300 B.C. the celebration date moved to Jan. 1, though there is debate that it was instead Julius Caesar who said Jan. 1 would be the start of a new year in 46 B.C. The move to January was thought to avoid what had become a prime-time for the battlefield in the spring. New Year’s thus became associated with the god Janus (January), who was god of home and hearth. Romans took oaths and temple sacrifices and brought gifts to loved ones to honour the New Year.

The desire to start anew — to renew — is anything but new. There is a long and storied past that traces through Western civilization. It’s unclear when the basis for the annual tradition of renewal became secular instead of religious, but its impact on society remains large. YouGov reported that nearly three in 10 Canadians planned to make New Year’s resolutions in 2020. Exercise, saving money, losing weight and eating healthier remain perennial favourites. Reducing stress followed as number five on the list, but efforts to address the preceding four aspects of life as resolutions certainly address stress. There is a caveat to this broad sweep of life’s general aspects in that in that it is desirable to make concrete, measurable goals. One step at a time, or as Fire Chief Arjuna George brought to our attention in a Between Alarms column last year: one per cent better every day. That is a worthy goal in itself.

Whether you make New Year’s resolutions or not, I hope you find the information in this edition’s pages of Canadian Firefighter inspire you to take care and be well, to renew for 2021, because 2020 had its share of being downright exhuasting. Onwards and upwards for the betterment of us all. Happy New Year!  

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