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Ringing in the New Year

December 29, 2017

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's post.

"Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring, happy bells, across the snow; The year is going, let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true."  - Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Music for today's post provided by Trio Mediaeval

I have heard of ringing in the new year. I have also heard of bringing in the new year. I was not sure if they are synonymous, or two separate phrases, but it turns out that both are used and useful.

Bells can signify joy and success, as demonstrated by John Adams in a letter to his wife. He writes, “The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.” In other words, the bells give voice to celebration, joy and excitement, the voice of a hard-won fight.

This sentiment is also carried by Walt Whitman in “O Captain, My Captain” which reads, “O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done, The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won, The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting.” Whitman too seems to combine two sentiments into one. While alluding to the danger of the past, fearful trip, Whitman also embraces the hope of the new. In other words, in this stanza, the bells celebrate a loss while also rejoicing over the future.

The phrase “ringing in the new year” hints at the idea of loss. Long ago, people thought that the sound of bells scared away evil spirits and so they often rang for funerals as well as religious traditions. Long, dark nights of winter encouraged bell ringing, which then ran into holiday celebrations. Finally, the bell ringing merged cultural anxiety with holiday celebration and bells became synonymous with joy and hope. Churches began to ring bells and then the bell became both warning and celebration, a noise that made one take note of life's events.

It turns out that “ringing in the new year” is often confused with “bringing in the new year”. While they both celebrate the new year, they actually refer to different traditions. The phrase “to bring”, according to Merriam-Webster, most likely corresponds to “to disclose or reveal”. In this sense, the new year literally delivers something new, whereas ringing in the new year simply notes the passing of a year. To me, ringing carries more of a physical presence with it – as if the year expired in terms of space and time – whereas bringing introduces something new into the old, like a gift under the tree. Honestly, I can see why both of these analogies fit so well. The passage of time is complicated. It involves space, time, culture and tradition. No matter the phrase you choose, it seems important to take a moment to note that the first minute of 2018 is very different from the last minute of 2017. Therefore, let this be a toast to the new year! Whether you are ringing, bringing or both, may you be blessed with great literature and wonderful conversation.

“The horizon leans forward, offering you space to place new steps of change.” - Maya Angelou

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