Every February 2nd in Punxsutawawney Pennsylvania, Phil the Groundhog pops out of his den. If he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. In South Alabama, we have Cleatus The Redneck Chipmunk. Each Labor Day, he pops out of his beer can and, if he sees his shadow, it's six more weeks of summer.
Hint: Cleatus always sees his shadow.
Regardless of what Cleatus saw, or the fact that summer doesn't officially end until September 22nd, or it doesn't get cool down here until mid-October, summer culturally is over. Amid sweltering humidity and heat, autumn's rituals have begun, and that's what really matters to me. Personally, Labor Day is more like New Years Day than January 1st. For me, 2023 has already started.
New Year's Day doesn't feel like the start of something new to me. In fact, it sucks. It lies deep in the heart of winter. December and January blur together in a gray morass. In January, you have only more work, school and winter to look forward to. Spring is still so far away. Other than the holidays to break life's routine, nothing else changes before or after New Years Day. For the kids, school simply resumes where it left off. For adults, work remains the same as before but now we're more in debt following Christmas. It was cold before, and will be cold after. The last digit on the calendar changes, but life still has the same flavor until spring arrives. There has been no significant transition, except perhaps taking down the Christmas tree.
Labor Day is far different.
Everything changes after Labor Day. In American life, this is the point our lifecycles reset. The Autumn Equinox is invigorating, as compared to the endless deadness of the Winter Solstice. You feel fall with every sense. Depending where you live, the very air seems to come alive with crispness, coolness, and fresh smells. Change imprints memories. You remember September, but January is a blur. I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. Go Google songs about September, and then songs about January.
September songs - classics! January songs - not so much.
September is a season of change. School has begun for the kids, but they are not the same kids that left school only a few months earlier. They are different: a new grade, older, and physically different than last year. Maybe new clothes and a new attitude (good or bad). Maybe new acne and an attraction to the opposite sex. High schoolers have become college kids, or working adults. No matter that age they are, they've undergone a metamorphosis. A transition has taken place, one you likely captured with a photo on the first day of school.
In fact, go back and look at your family photos and you'll probably realize that most of them were taken from September through December.
In September there are so many things to look forward to! Fall festivals are everywhere. September is a season for planning, and looking forward to the coming weeks. High school football reigns under the Friday night lights. College and pro football has gotten underway. Hunting seasons replace fishing. People begin to draw up Halloween plans, and wonder what costume they will wear. People start making their travel plans for Thanksgiving. Wal-Mart is replacing pool supplies with Christmas supplies, and many of us will begin our holiday shopping. For me, I call this the beginning of "attic season", where I begin taking decorations out of the attic. All of those decorations are put away after New Year, which signals more of an end than a new beginning.
So begins the season of phone calls that end with "What are we doing?" and "When will you get here?" and "I can't wait to see you again!" New Years Day, on the other hand, is a time for phrases like, "Be careful driving home" and "When will we see you again?" and "I'll miss you" and "My diet starts tomorrow."
New Years Day is a bittersweet time of endings, goodbyes, and putting things away in the attic, and knowing I have to go back to work the next day. Simply put, New Years Day makes me feel older because it compels me to look back.
Labor Day signals new beginnings, transitions, renewal, revelry, reunion, family, thanksgiving, and worship that all culminates on New Year's Day. For me, Labor Day isn't the end of summer so much as it is truly the beginning of a new year in my life. Labor Day makes me feel younger because it compels me to look ahead.
So, for those that feel the way I do, let's raise a toast to Cleatus as he crawls back into his beer can.
Happy New Year, everyone.
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