The Night the World Exploded
2017 has officially joined the 21st century club and it seems the world is ecstatic. Ah, the much anticipated New Year! Although the fresh-facedness of January 1st is as arbitrary as that of January 2nd, or April 15th, or December 27th, there is a certain magic that comes with knowing we are entering a new, universally recognized timestamp, the numerical guide with which we’ll catalogue the events that’ll change our lives. And with this magic comes the want to do bigger and better things in the days that sit ahead, as of yet empty and clean for us to do as we will.
The sentimentality of the New Year is what brings us to commemorate and celebrate on the eve of its arrival. Suffice to say, 2016 was my first time celebrating the New Year away from home. Granted, I’m not that big of a celebrator to begin with, but my sentimentality has always led me to seek meaning in the presence of close friends and family.
Without their presence, however, New Year’s Eve did feel a little glum. I remember waking up from an evening nap at 7PM and feeling a sudden onrush of saudades, the beautiful, untranslatable Portuguese word that expresses a deep and profound longing for someone or something that is absent. I had woken up that morning with the conviction that this New Year’s would be the most interesting — after all, I was in Brazil (!) — but by the time evening rolled around I knew ‘interesting’ was no replacement for ‘most fulfilling’. More than anything, I wanted to be with my family back home drinking Appleby’s cider and watching the Hong Kong fireworks on television. Instead, I was in my room, alone, in a half-empty house, with no friends I could invite over, no one I could visit, and no one I could really talk to other than my homestay mom (who I’d exclusively be spending the whole weekend with).
All of this, alongside the knowledge that 2016 was a year that had profoundly impacted my life — graduating high school, backpacking for the first time, coming to Brazil… — and thus deserved some sort of recognition.
It was with this glumness that I later donned my new white shirt (a Christmas present from my homestay sister, as part of a Brazilian tradition of wearing a certain colour on NYE) (white represents peace, blue health, yellow wealth, green hope, and red love) and left the house for the New Year mass at my mom’s Evangelical church. I didn’t want to be alone for New Year’s Eve, and participating in an Evangelical mass was always an interesting experience.
(It also helped that my mom had baked the most amazing cake that evening for the post-mass party, a veritable brick of a chocolate cake with a banana, cinnamon and sugar filling and condensed milk + chocolate frosting. Oh Brazil, you spoil me so…)
Surprisingly, I had a really good time. And even more surprisingly, I discovered that 2017 began in a way that made me happier than I’d been in a long time, and it wasn’t just because of the heaping plates of post-mass cake.
When midnight actually rolled around, the whole congregation was kneeling on the floor with their heads down in prayer. In that moment, I remember feeling as if the world was exploding: there were fireworks going on outside, the pastor was shouting into the microphone, and everyone around me was murmuring louder and louder until it all became a blur. I remember smiling at David, my fellow church companion, and thinking: this is it! This is 2017!
Thus followed the most consecutive hugs I’ve received upon arriving in Brazil. Various members of the church began hugging me and David, regardless of the fact that they probably didn’t even know our names. Out on the street, we ran into the group of kids who always play in the square (and always ask me to samba), with whom we also exchanged ecstatic New Year hugs. The whole street was ablaze with late-night lights and music, and when we reached our house our downstairs neighbour was seated outside celebrating with our other neighbours from the street.
Upon returning home, the first thing my mom did was hug the dog. I didn’t, because, well, it bites. We then spent the next hour on the sofa chatting, called Samantha (who stayed in the same homestay last year) and later called my parents back home.
When I went to bed later that night (or rather, later that dawn), I no longer felt the stale feel of homesickness in the air. In the end, my New Year’s was exactly what I wanted it to be: an opportunity to feel connected with people who will mean something to me in the year ahead.
Yet the truth is, I celebrate my own kind of New Year every single day. Regardless of the date, every day here in Brazil brings me something unexpected. I meet new faces and develop new relationships every time I walk in the streets of Candeal, and I learn something new every time I go to work. I’m constantly tasting new flavours and seeing new things, and in the next five months I’m sure there’ll only be more things to discover, or re-discover.
So perhaps my sentimentality is redundant. If the New Year feels are here to subconsciously incentivize us to herald novelty into our lives, do I need them after all?
Actually, I take that back. Just grant me this one shot at sentimentality. If it gives me the incentive to clean my room (a two hour feat) and write this post, then I’ll keep it.
(Wow, all this jazz in a post I was intending to write about my New Year’s Resolutions! I guess that one will have to wait.) 😉