New Year=Good Year?

New Year=Good Year?

As we approach the beginning of the New Year, I become a bit philosophical. In the Jewish tradition, when we refer to the coming year, we say “Shana Tova,” meaning literally “Good Year” or “Have a Good Year”. On the other hand, the traditional greeting for the new year in the Western world is “Happy New Year.” Are happy and good synonyms? My thoughts:

I associate happiness with pleasure, enjoyment, and just having a good time. When I was growing up in Chicago, there was an iconic amusement park called Riverview. There was special magic about the place: once you entered its gates, you left the outside world behind. Your outings left memories that would last a lifetime. In fact, Riverview’s commercials on radio and television used the following unforgettable words, “Come to Riverview and laugh your troubles away!” Any former Chicagoan who went to Riverview in its heyday always expresses a bit of sadness when someone mentions Riverview because it is no more; it was torn down years ago and replaced with a large strip mall. In fact, I knew people who felt it was sacrilegious to shop in the stores where Riverview once stood.

So, when we wish our friends, colleagues, and family a Happy New Year at the end of the secular calendar, what are we really saying? Are we wishing them to have many vacations, eat delicious meals, or just have many opportunities to indulge at a place like Riverview? Or are we saying, may you have no troubles or losses during the coming year? Don’t get me wrong; I am not criticizing people for having a good time; I think it is an important part of the human experience. But maybe there is more to that greeting.

Wishing someone a good year has such rich potential! A good year can be a year of accomplishments, overcoming setbacks, or completing a task that one has been working on for a long time. A good year can be one of making new friends or reconnecting with old ones. It could be a year of starting something new or putting a challenging period in the rearview mirror. In short, wishing someone a “good year” is wishing a person a year of endless possibilities that has the scope to be oh-so-satisfying.

I am blessed with two sons-in-law who were raised in the Sephardic Jewish tradition. One of my favorite things is to not only spend a Shabbat at their homes but particularly listen to them lead the traditional “Havdalah” service, which officially brings the Shabbat to an end. In that tradition, there is a place to improvise and wish a long list of potential blessings for the coming week for those in attendance. For example, my sons-in-law start with the traditional mentions that it should be a week of livelihood, good health, and peace. The twist they have introduced to me is that after the traditional wishes are mentioned, all the participants can shout out that it should be a week of successful tests at school, a successful trip abroad, getting better from a lingering virus, or even successfully completing a work project. Or that we should overcome our reluctance about a certain thing – or love and support each other this week. In other words, this weekly tradition emphasizes “good” things, things that not only make us happy but also enrich and enable us to grow. I highly recommend the “shout-out” method, which personalizes our wishes for ourselves and each other.

So, considering the above, let me wish you a Shana Tova, a good year, and a happy year, a year where you make progress in achieving your goals, and are excited about your plans for the coming year.

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