The New Year’s Day Melancholy

In Korea, we get one year older every new year’s day, though we also use the usual way to count our ages–birthday-centered numbering. So Koreans’ ages are like “ordinal numbers.” If you were born on the 31st day of December in 2022, it is your “first year,” and you are one year old. Then the next day, 2023, is your “second year,” and you are two years old. But, to be more precise, it is incorrect to say the person is “two years old.” We have our own way of saying it, that is, “두 살”(doo sɑ́l)(doo means two; sɑ́l is an age numbering unit). This means 2023 is your second year since you were born.

Anyway, the numbering system of the human age based on the earth’s revolution around the sun is, in fact, just a numbering system and nothing more. But it is? It is not at all easy to overcome the social dimension or cultural implications of getting “older,” or more precisely, “adding up numbers” to our ages. At every round of the earth’s evolution around the sun, we are expected to be wiser, more prosperous, more stable and secure. But the new year’s day is just another revolution of the earth around the sun. Nonetheless we are more pressed to be better and better at every dimension of our lives as the earth moves on and on and on. However, it is not even easy to survive these days, and sometimes it feels like getting wiser and more prosperous is too far away from us.

On every new year’s day, I look back at my “performances” or “achievements” of the last year and think, “what have I done?” And I also think, “what should I achieve this year?” There is not much to say. As long as anti-intellectualism disguised as “faith” prevails in Korean Christianity, rational theological ideas have little space in religious communities. As a scholar, I feel my hands are tied, but I am expected to achieve something big as the earth moves around the sun. As the pattern repeats, the new year’s day melancholy grows and presses me harder.


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