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NYE 04/05: How Dare We Not?

We have the radio on in the kitchen, tuned to 2GB, and being home ill today, I’ve been listening to it a bit. Chat host Luke Bona is taking calls on several subjects including binge drinking, but what held my attention were the calls decrying the continuing of the New Year’s Eve festivities in the face of the tsunamis that struck India and South Asia a few days ago. Several people have called in to say that the festivities should be halted or at least toned down, that to continue would be frivolous or in bad taste in the face of this huge natural disaster.

I won’t go into the facts of the disaster, as several news agencies have dedicated web pages to the tsunamis, with ready dates, times, facts and figures. But in my opinion, to call for the cancellation of the New Year’s Eve celebrations is in itself bad taste, and may well do more damage than good to this nation’s – I keep trying and failing to find a word or phrase less clinical or over-used than “psyche” or “morale” – at a time when we really need to heal.

Let’s have a quick look at our nation’s major events. Christmas Day commemorates an event held sacred by one of the major religions across the globe, and there are those, including Sydney’s lord mayor, Clover Moore, who object to the nation sanctioning a religion and forcing its rites on those who practice other religions or who believe the event is nothing more than myth. Anzac Day commemorates war and the death of Australian and New Zealand soldiers almost a century ago, and Australia Day can be seen as commemorating the start of two centuries of oppression, slavery and casual extermination.

By contrast, New Year’s Eve is one of the few, non-sectarian, non-commemorative celebrations we have each year. All it celebrates is the end of a year and the beginning of another. It’s a simple celebration for its own sake, a way for us to celebrate the simple fact that we, as people, as a city and as a nation can still actually come together, recognise and celebrate what we still have: our lives, our health, our sanity and, if one wants to get especially poetic, our freedom. I’ve long believed that major events are simply excuses for a party, and New Year’s Eve is the only excuse that we as a city and as a nation can have without feeling guilty, defensive or sombre. And we need something that we can all feel good about, that unites us on a greater scale than just a personal, family-and-friends get-together or local bonfire night.

That’s why we need the fireworks, that big, taxpayer-expensive, frivolous display. You see, this nation has very few truly communal experiences. Referring back to the list of national holidays above, some of us can feel, justly or otherwise, excluded, marginalised or persecuted by some celebrations. The New Year’s Eve fireworks display is probably the only experience outside any cultural, historical or religious division. Even annual themes or political contexts can’t dilute the sheer spectacle, the vision of light and sound. And we need that spectacle, that vision. We each of us are different; we all take away different things from different events. But the fireworks are probably the only central experience that gives everyone a common point of reference. Whether we’re looking from the foreshore, the rooftop pub garden, the comfortable lounge with the telly on or even just from the street, you’re seeing the same thing, and you can talk about it with almost anyone else who chose to participate.

Ultimately, it’s a symbol – it’s a little light in the face of the darkness. It’s our way of roaring at the world, at the universe: See us here! See our celebration of life! Are we so insignificant in the grand scheme?

Now, you’ve just read me establish why I think the New Year’s Eve celebrations are a good idea in general. It’s time I tied my opinion back to the tsunami. Frankly, what I find distasteful is the argument that we should cancel or tone down New Year’s Eve because of the tsunami when human drama occurs across the world all year. AIDS ravages Africa, floods devastate Bangladesh, war rages across Iraq, Israel and Palestine, yet the New Year’s Eve celebrations continue every year. Why should this natural disaster have any more effect on NYE simply due to its temporal proximity? Lives are devastated every day of the year across the globe, yet the New Year’s Eve celebrations continue every year. Would it be a double standard simply because Australians are involved?

We need the New Year’s Eve celebrations more than any other national celebration or holiday, more so now than ever. We need it because of our tragedies, our losses, our human disasters, not in spite of them.

If the day comes when those tragedies, losses and human disasters will be the only things we can talk about without offending, marginalizing or inadvertently persecuting someone, I will truly fear for the human race.

P.S.: I’d like to send all my best wishes to Phil, one of Vickie’s sons-in-law and a good friend. He’s a fingerprints expert who is part of the federal forensic team that flew to Thailand to assist in the identification of those killed in the tsunami. We’re thinking of you, mate.

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I've worked with EMO - Emergency Measures Organization - on searches. I've been known to bring my young children along. They've managed to 'help out' with the little things, but the other EMO members didn't mind. In the midst of the search for, for example, a young girl who fell into a river, the laughter and smiles my two brought made the searchers job that little bit easier. It gave them hope that children could survive all manner of things. It reminded them that, whatever Death may have in store for us, we are not lost as long as we can laugh and smile.

New Year's celebrations in the face of the devastating earthquake and tsunami are vital. They're a way of reaffirming that no matter what Life throws at us, we will survive and go on. And we'll do it with a smile, too.

How do you know that the Indonesians and Indians and everyone else directly affected by the tsunami, how do you know that they're not celebrating New Year's Eve? True, the celebrations may be a bit less extravagant than ours, but celebrating their very survival seems totally appropriate.

We are the Human Race. We will survive. We will close the Old Year with a smile and open the New Year with the same. As long as we can do that, we can do anything.

*lol* Yeah, I know. Preaching to the choir. Just gimme a few days to get my own blog set up and I'll rant there. ;)