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Leon’s No Newsletter 247 Happy New Year

The importance of celebrating festivals.

Be joyful at your festival--you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns. (Deuteronomy 16:14)

On the day when the festival of New Year arrives, or, for that matter when any festival arrives, you can hear the words “Happy New Year Everyone”, or “Happy Chanuka” or “Happy Pesach” or happy whatever, being shouted out all around. Mostly we don’t think about what we’re saying and in any case, saying these greetings gives the person saying them more pleasure than the person receiving them, because we are really expressing the joy that we feel at the arrival of the festival.

The arrival of a festival is like the arrival of a favorite, old grandpa, who’s arrival, we’ve been waiting for, with bated breath, for a long time and has, at long last arrived, usually bringing precious gifts, which are sure to bring us even more pleasure.

We prepare great celebrations for the occasion; trumpet fanfares (Jews blow the ram’s horn on New Year), flag waving parades (think of the parades, with the Torah and the palm branches, around the synagogue on the feast of Tabernacles), special foods; Christmas Cake, Haman’s Ears on the Jewish festival of Purim, Matzah for Passover, etc. etc.

We call these preparations, customs. Judaism even has laws to compel us to observe these customs, indicating the seriousness in which they are regarded, we think in terms of God having ordered us to perform them and He may even punish us if we don’t observe them.

At the risk of sounding flippant and being chastised for levity or even blasphemy, I declare that these customs, held sacred by many Jews, aren’t more sacred than the custom of a New Year’s Minstrel Parade in Cape Town, or the singing of Carols, on Christmas or feasting on Ramadan, etc.

I don’t think that anybody would fear God’s punishment if he didn’t attend the Minstrel Parade or if he didn’t eat Christmas cake, or ring bells at midnight to ring in the New Year, or sing "for auld lang syne", yet, in my opinion everyone would do well to take these customs as seriously as the Jews take their customs. Allow me to explain:.

Nobody takes these customs as seriously as the Jews take the custom of Waving the palm branch, for example, but all these customs make the festival memorable. Our remembrance of them arouse deep feelings of happiness in us, whether they are Jewish or non Jewish customs.

Whatever the origin of these customs, they are definitely important, because they create memories and make us feel excited at the prospect of the arrival of the festival. Personal sadnesses are forgotten and personal joys are remembered, in the midst of observing the customs of the festival.

We try to remember where and with whom we were when the festival took place last year and that gives us extra pleasure. We compare how the matzo ball soup tasted last year compared to the way it tastes this year. I remember childhood days of my father making the blessing over the wine and the fun I had with all the cousins sitting round our table. I even remember funny things that this one or that one said, etc. etc.

Customs are universal; they determine what each person in the universe or nation or religious group should be feeling on the day of celebration. In this sense they express an ideal, but, at the same time, they are joggers of personal memories. The ideal would be unattainable, unless we compel ourselves to celebrate.

We need to compel ourselves to celebrate, because, often feelings aroused by personal memories, don’t always match the idealistic, universal feelings. For example, Jews in a death camp, on the day of the Jewish New Year, or a family being attacked by a wild bunch of raving Christians or Moslems, carrying out a pogrom on Passover, a death of a loved one on the day of the festival, etc. etc.

These are the real events that arouse real feelings. One asks oneself how a person mourning the death of a loved one, or the destruction of one’s home in an earthquake, a flood, etc.can carry out the custom of rejoicing in the Sabbath meal or blowing the ram’s horn on the New Year, or singing “for auld lang syne” etc. There is a clash.

Sometimes personal feelings match the feelings of the universal event, but, as history has demonstrated, they usually, clash.

I don’t want to introduce a serious note into a discussion of the arrival of such a happy event, as the arrival of a festival, like New Year, but alas! The reality of existence is mostly sombre. Human beings are frail creatures and tend to have harsh experiences, even on festive days. Nature and natural disasters take their course. There is no consideration in Nature for man’s need to celebrate festivals.

The point I’m trying to make in all this, is that that festivals and their customs are the creation of Human Beings, not of God.

In the face of the reality of catastrophes, who dares say that God made the festival? Catastrophes would not take place on festivals, If God had created the festivals.

Saying that God created festivals is just a way of scaring people into celebrating the festivals.

Festivals and their customs are the invention of human beings, in fact, in my opinion, one of the greatest phenomena that Human Beings have invented. But we must treat them as if God had ordained them. That’s how important they are.

The invention of festivals is a stroke of human genius and declaring that God ordained them is a greater stroke of human genius.

I think that the Jewish idea of obliging Jews to celebrate festivals, should be adopted by everyone. All humans, should choose, to make them obligatory, for the simple reason that the customs to be observed on the festival have been designed deliberately to outweigh even the saddest, possible personal tragedy.

Tragedy is bound to happen and its greatest danger is that it can cause human beings to lose hope in the future, to lose hope in the need to survive. The human being has an amazing ability to survive in the face of the worst tragedies, but he will only fight for survival as long as he has hope in a better future.

If human beings are to continue surviving and holding on to hope for a better future, they need to overcome the sadness of the tragedy and this is the function of celebrating customs of festivals.

Celebrate your festival or join in the festivals of others, because this is a serious matter. Rejoicing is serious. Rejoice and be happy! Don’t let any sadness get the better of you.

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

and never brought to mind?

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

and old lang syne?


For auld lang syne, my dear,

for auld lang syne,

we'll take a cup of kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!

and surely I’ll buy mine!

And we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.


We two have run about the slopes,

and picked the daisies fine;

But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,

since auld lang syne.


We two have paddled in the stream,

from morning sun till dine;

But seas between us broad have roared

since auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand my trusty friend!

And give me a hand o’ thine!

And we’ll take a right good-will draught,

for auld lang syne.

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