There are only 118 more days until Jan. 1, 2013. That’ll be the day most Americans celebrate the start of a new year, or at least it will be once they wake up and shake off the remnants of whatever revelry they took part in the previous evening.

But aside from the hidebound tradition of observing the Gregorian Calendar, which most of the world has done since 1752, there’s no real reason any enlightened, independent-thinking individual should continue to see Jan. 1 as the year’s initial holiday. The exact date of New Year’s Day should change slightly each year, but should always occur at a time that demonstrably presents the possibility of a tangible or at least symbolic rebirth for contemporary society and, more importantly, for the great majority of people who actually comprise it.

Tomorrow really ought to be recognized as New Year’s Day in Kennebunk, Old Orchard Beach, York, Scarborough, and in countless other places like them throughout Maine and the Northeast. Does any other day of the year offer the sort of opportunity for new beginnings and/or fresh starts as the first day of school does?

The annual start of the academic year presents a myriad of opportunities for a variety of people. For the reluctant student, it’s a chance to make a positive impression on brand new teachers and/or peers, and then build on those potentially important relationships every day thereafter. For their high-achieving peers, it’s an invitation to continue actively pursuing new and valuable knowledge in a familiar, comfortable and structured setting.

For teachers, the first day of school presents a golden opportunity to help a new group of pupils find the success and fulfillment they can use to go out and improve society in a myriad of ways themselves. Teachers can improve the future in exponential increments by positively impacting each student entrusted to them in any given academic year, and there’s no better time to head in the right direction than on the first day of classes.

Good school custodians eagerly anticipate the return of children as well. Seeing the young people their school serves is powerful motivation to even more proudly make the best of the buildings and grounds they clean, maintain and occasionally reconstruct. The same goes for those who tirelessly prepare and serve nutritious meals for students and staff. Those who keep school buildings and the people inside of them functioning efficiently perform at a consistently high level despite the fact that far too few people are aware of their efforts. However, like baseball umpires, knowing they have the appreciation of those who they serve and with whom they work in close proximity should be far more soul-satisfying than any shrill dissatisfaction from ignorant types is vexing.

The initial day of an academic year gives school bus drivers the chance to help insecure 5-year-olds make the seamless transition from nervous preschoolers to confident kindergartners, and also to demonstrate good and responsible behavior for 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds who might just need another positive adult role model.

Many school administrators and their support staff toil year-round, perpetually endeavoring to improve the quality of education in their communities. For them, the annual start of school means getting to see both the immediate results of all their efforts as well as the beginning of their exhaustive, long-term planning begin to actually come to fruition.

For parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings, baby sitters and others who served as caregivers for the just-completed summer, the start of a new school year is a chance to take a deep breath, gain new perspective on their youthful charges from a distance, and return to what one of America’s least-quoted presidents, Warren Harding, would undoubtedly have called “normalcy.”

The first day of school is far more relevant to new beginnings than any Jan. 1. Those who refuse to be held captive by hoary tradition can probably come around to accepting something as radical as changing the date of New Year’s Day. But for those unable or unwilling to simply discard Jan. 1 onto the scrapheap of the 350 or so other days generally regarded as unremarkable by most people, it could be used to celebrate something else.

 The Roman Senate posthumously deified Julius Caesar on that date in 42 BC. The dwarf planet Ceres was discovered by Italian astronomer Giuseppe Piazza on Jan. 1, 1801. Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista was overthrown on Jan. 1, 1959. Betsy Ross, Paul Revere and Grandmaster Flash were all born on an initial day of January; King Louis XII of France, Shirley Chisholm and Hank Williams Sr. all died on one. Surely there’s an excuse for new Jan. 1st holiday in there somewhere.

But it shouldn’t be New Year’s Day. That appellation should go to a date that truly marks an opportunity for new beginnings.

Happy New Year, everyone!

— For Andy Young and the six groups of upperclassmen he’ll instruct this year at the local high school at which he teaches, the new school year begins tomorrow, but many other area students will head back by today.



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