It is a curious fact that New Year's Eve is synonymous with getting wasted. How do I define wasted? Technically put, I would define it as any party-related excess that results in one feeling like crap the next day.
Now it goes without saying that getting wasted would typically not be the intended outcome of cultural and religious rituals. Their objective would be to strengthen rather than deplete the spirit; it would be to align people with the life energies of transpersonal moments such as the New Year, rather than undermine such connections; it would be to hold open transformative space to support the gathering-in and cultivation of the life forces, rather than to cause their dissipation. So why, we rightfully ask, do New Year's Eve celebrations seem so often to take the form of dissipative rites?
When people are challenged by life experiences, I should explain by way of answering this question, and they are unable, for whatever reasons, to bring those challenges to consciousness and resolve them, those unresolved challenges create within the personality a tension, which in turn seeks physiological discharge, typically through the dissipative abuse of food, sex, drugs and alcohol. Psychic arrest creates psychic tension; unresolved psychic tension seeks physiological discharge. So exactly what does all of this have to do with dissipative New Year's Eve rites?
We certainly frame New Year's Eve as the most forward-looking event of the calendar year, but the harsh reality, I would suggest, is that it is the one time of the year when people are led to face, willingly or unwillingly, their shortcomings, failures and limitations. Both consciously and unconsciously, they are being called to account for what they achieved and for what they did not achieve in the previous year, perhaps even for things that they have not been able to achieve for several years. Most punishing of all is that these shortcomings, failures and limitations are not just being qualitatively identified and measured, but quantitatively, no less, in terms of an absolute timeline. The point I am making here is that far from being about holding open ritual space for the 'new,' New Year's Eve, for the vast majority of people, has to do with desperately fleeing, by way of dissipative acts, the tensions attending the unresolved 'old.'
Now given the nature of my professional work I am certainly not inclined to imagine that the unresolved 'old' will be readily resolved. What I would offer, though, is that we can do so much more when it comes to how we create and hold open ritual space on New Year's Eve. There is certainly a reason why cultural and religious rituals seldom proceed in the absence of prescribed acts of personal purification, such as prayer, confession, fasting or ablutions. These acts of purification are indispensable to ritual process, as they ultimately serve to release the attendees from that which would keep them from being present to and moving with the transformative energies of the moment.
This is our challenge: to let go of what we must to find our way to the moment at hand on New Year's Eve, to let go of what we must to hold open the requisite space for the 'new' to present.